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Hamilton T. Melville v. Commissioner of Social Security

February 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge


This cause came on for consideration without oral argument on review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. For the reasons set forth herein, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED for further proceedings, consistent with this opinion.

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance, and Supplemental Security Income benefits in November 2004 (R. 84-86, 497-99). The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") (R. 34-44, 49-51, 54-55, 56, 507-09 and 510-535). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 3, 2006 (R. 19-31), and Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council (R. 18). On October 13, 2006, the Appeals Council denied the request (R. 14-16), and Plaintiff petitioned this Court for review. Hamilton Melville v. Commissioner of Social Security, Case No. 6:07-cv-720-DAB. By Order dated February 28, 2008, the Court reversed the administrative decision and remanded the matter to the Commissioner, for further consideration (R. 577-86).

Upon remand, another administrative hearing was held and, on March 17, 2009, a different Administrative Law Judge issued an unfavorable decision (R. 543-55). On November 29, 2010, the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction, making the 2009 decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner (R. 536-38). The instant Complaint timely followed (Doc. No. 1), and the parties have briefed the issues, consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, and waived oral argument. The matter is now ripe for review.

Nature of Claimed Disability

Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled in August 2004, due to "neck, back, IBS*fn1 and mental health" issues, specifically depression (R. 110). In addition to the pain and residuals from these conditions, Plaintiff asserts that he has dyslexia and headaches and that he has difficulty reading, writing and concentrating. Id. Since remand, Plaintiff asserts that his condition has worsened (R. 724) and he alleges a new impairment of significant arthritis of the feet with bilateral hallux rigidus (R. 670).*fn2

Summary of the Evidence

At the time of the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff was forty-eight years old, with a college education, and past relevant work history as a compiler, cashier, server or waiter, bartender, cable installer, and a public relations representative (R. 121-46, 721, 730-31).

The medical evidence is set forth in the ALJ's decision and, in the interests of privacy and brevity, will be stated here only to the extent necessary to address Plaintiff's objections. In addition to the medical records of the treating providers, the record includes testimony at the administrative hearings, written forms and reports, and opinions from examining and non-examining consultants. By way of summary, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of binocular dysfunction, cervical disc disease with radiculopathy, hepatitis, peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel syndrome, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, alcohol dependence, major depressive disorder, lumbar disc disease with radiculopathy, and arthritis of the feet with hallux rigidus (R. 546, Finding no. 3), and the record supports this uncontested finding. The ALJ determined that claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525, 404.1526,416.925 and 416.926) (R. 546, Finding No. 4) and determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). (R. 547, Finding No. 5). The ALJ stated:

He can lift and carry 25# frequently and 50# occasionally. He can sit, stand and walk 6 hours in an 8 hour day. He has no limitations in his ability to push-pull with hand or foot controls. He has no manipulative, communicative, environmental or postural limitations, except that he is limited to occasional stooping and crouching. His psychological impairments, including his learning disorder produce only moderate limitations with social functioning, maintaining concentration, persistence or pace and the activities of daily living. In addition, the claimant has a visual dysfunction and wears reading glasses with prismatic correction for any reading or close up work. He can hear, understand, remember and carry out simple routine work instructions, and has only moderate limitations in his ability to interact appropriately with the general public, co-workers, and supervisors. Id.

In what appears to be an error, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was both "unable to perform his past relevant work" and "capable of returning to all of his past relevant work" (R. 553). Nonetheless, relying on the testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform other jobs in the national economy consistent with his RFC (R. 553-54, Finding no. 10), and was, therefore, not under a disability (R. 554, Finding no. 11).

Standard of Review

The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla -- i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. ...

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