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Evans v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

August 26, 2019




         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint [1] for judicial review of an unfavorable final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (agency) denying a claim for supplemental security income (SSI). The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), with any appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Court, having reviewed the administrative record, the briefs of the parties, and the applicable law, and having heard oral argument, finds as follows:

         Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act) on February 10, 2016. The agency denied Plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, the administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on July 17, 2017. The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI benefits on September 20, 2017.

         In her September 20, 2017 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date of February 10, 2016. The ALJ found Plaintiff's only severe impairment was his bipolar disorder. Next, the ALJ determined that Mr. Evans did not have an impairment, or a combination of impairments, that met or equaled an impairment found in the Appendix 1 Listing of Impairments. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at all exertional levels. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could perform simple tasks that involve working with data and things, rather than with people; working in low stress environments that involve occasional decision-making; and dealing with occasional changes in the work setting. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's allegations regarding his functional limitations were not fully supported. Plaintiff had no relevant past work. Based upon the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that other work was available in significant numbers in the national economy for someone of Plaintiff's vocational profile. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         On May 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner and the case reviewable pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed his Complaint [1] for review of the ALJ's decision in this Court on July 13, 2018.

         The Court held oral argument on Mr. Evans's disability appeal on July 16, 2019. Plaintiff had raised two issues in his brief:

1. The ALJ incorrectly assessed plaintiff's mental limitations and, as a result, failed to arrive at an adequate RFC;
2. The Appeals Council failed to consider evidence from Licensed Counselor Sherri Kent.

         However, during the hearing the undersigned raised concern that the waxing / waning nature of Mr. Evans' symptomology was not reflected in the RFC finding of the ALJ. Specifically, the undersigned framed the issue in terms of the ALJ's failure to consider the claimant's lability as it related to his ability to work on a continuous basis. The Court allowed, upon the Commissioner's request, additional briefing on the issue. The Court did not require, and Plaintiff did not submit, supplemental briefing. Nevertheless, Plaintiff sufficiently adopted the issue raised by the Court during the July 16 hearing.

         Standard of Review

         Judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision and (2) whether the decision comports with proper legal standards. See Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). “It is more than a mere scintilla, and less than a preponderance.” Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing Moore v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d 901, 904 (5th Cir. 1990)). “A decision is supported by substantial evidence if ‘credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision.'” Salmond v. Berryhill, 892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018) (citations omitted).

         Law ...

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