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Siracuse v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 20, 2017

BRENDA E. SIRACUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying her applications for a Period of Disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on January 1, 2011. (Tr. 216, 227.) A video hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 16, 2014, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 36-54.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from January 1, 2011 through November 6, 2014, the date of the decision.[2] (Tr. 16-30.)

         In reaching the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: an ankle disorder, an affective disorder, an anxiety disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 21-22.) Specifically, the ALJ found that the requirements of Listing 12.05(C), intellectual disability, were not met because, despite Plaintiff's full scale intelligence quotient (“IQ”) scores of 65 and 61, there was evidence of adaptive functioning in that Plaintiff had worked as an assistant manager for over nine years and had been assessed at the borderline intellectual functioning level. (Tr. 23.) Then, after finding that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with limitations, [3] the ALJ ultimately found that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 23, 28.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that she was not disabled from January 1, 2011 through November 6, 2014. Plaintiff has exhausted her available administrative remedies and the case is properly before the Court. The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law.

         For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         II. Relevant Evidence of Record

         A. Examining Sources

         1. Elek J. Ludvigh, Ph.D.

         On May 16, 2012, Dr. Ludvigh conducted a psychological examination of Plaintiff. (Tr. 317-21.) He administered four tests: the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV), the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System-Second Edition (ABAS-II), the Incomplete Sentences Form (Verbal Administration), and the LV Type Indicator (Verbal Administration). (Tr. 317.) Dr. Ludvigh observed:

[Plaintiff] was noticeably underweight, arrived for the interview poorly dressed and groomed, but made a good overall personal impression, given her intellectual limitations and emotional distress. She was alert, pleasant, open, and cooperative, but also exhibited frequent nervous laughter, and periodic tearfulness.

(Tr. 318.)

Under Relevant Developmental Background, Dr. Ludvigh stated in part:
Brenda reports that she was in Special Education classes in school due to being “a slow learner.” She withdrew from school after completing the tenth grade, and was told she needed to either return to school or get a job. Brenda began working, and reports that she has primarily worked in fast food restaurants. She was employed by Hardee's for over nine years as a cashier and line supervisor, and states that she “loved that job.” Brenda last worked for Checkers, and states she was with that employer for over one year. She quit because “The kids were telling me what to do and how to do it, and the manager didn't care.” Brenda reports that she is currently unable to work because she does not have a valid Id. Her Florida ID card has expired and she needs a copy of her birth certificate in order to obtain a new Id. Brenda is currently homeless, cannot financially afford to obtain a copy of her birth certificate, and also lacks a home address.

(Id.)

In his Personality Assessment, Dr. Ludvigh opined:
Brenda does the best she knows how to do, and has a surprisingly good work history, given her limited ability to quickly acquire and retain job skills. She very much wants to obtain and maintain stable employment, but is currently overwhelmed by the difficulties associated with being homeless, not having a valid ID, having lost her social security card, and lacking the computer and literacy skills to adequately complete on-line job applications. It is expected that Brenda will be a good employee if her living situation can be stabilized and if she can be assisted in obtaining employment.

(Tr. 320.)

         Plaintiff's full scale IQ score was 65, showing that she was “functioning within the [m]ildly [m]entally [r]etarded range of intellectual ability (approximately 1% of the population scores below this point).” (Id.) On the ABAS-II, Plaintiff “obtained a Generalized Adaptive Composite score of 69. Her highest scores were in the areas of Home Living and ...


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