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Bolden v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

September 1, 2017




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff filed his applications on January 15, 2013, alleging disability as of January 5, 2012. (Tr. 14.) These claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Id.) Plaintiff appeared at a hearing held in front of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on January 7, 2015. (Tr. 32-60.) The ALJ rendered a decision on March 5, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled from January 5, 2012 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 14-26.) Plaintiff has exhausted his 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. Discussion

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the disability rating placed upon him by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”). Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in classifying his past relevant work as a “jailer.” Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step five in concluding that he had transferable skills with little to no vocational adjustment in terms of tools, work processes and the industry, with respect to other jobs he could perform in the national economy. The undersigned agrees with Plaintiff with respect to his first contention and thus determines that remand is warranted without addressing the second and third issues raised on appeal.

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments, including diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, dermatitis or eczema, and stage three kidney disease. (Tr. 17.) However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ determined, in relevant part, that Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds [sic] no more than occasional climbing (ramps/stairs), crawling, crouching or stooping, and no more than frequent balancing or kneeling.

(Id.) The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work as a jailer or, alternatively, that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. 23-25.) As such, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period. (Tr. 25.)

         B. The ALJ Failed To Properly Consider The VA's Decision

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly or adequately take into account the VA's decision and 60% disability rating with respect to his skin condition. The undersigned agrees.

         The findings of another agency, although not binding on the Commissioner, are entitled to great weight. Falcon v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 827, 831 (11th Cir. 1984); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233. 1241 (11th Cir. 1983). According to the Eleventh Circuit, this includes the decisions and disability ratings of the VA. Hacia v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 601 Fed. App'x 783, 785-86 (11th Cir. 2015). While the Eleventh Circuit does not require the ALJ to quantify numerically the exact weight given to a VA disability determination, the ALJ has a duty to sufficiently explain “the weight accorded to each item of evidence” and the reasons for ...

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