Williams v. Berryhill (S.D. Ga. Nov. 9, 2016) (Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith)

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Included: Plaintiff’s Brief, Plaintiff’s Reply Brief, Report and Recommendation, and Order

Issues Briefed:

  1. 1)  The ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of the treating cardiologist in favor of the incomplete opinion of the non-examining psychologist, and in failing to address either the VA 70% disability rating or the extensive VA compensation and pension evaluation report.

  2. 2)  The ALJ’s finding that Mr. Williams’ allegations of limitations precluding his past relevant work were not fully credible is not supported by substantial evidence.

  3. 3)  The ALJ erred in classifying Mr. Williams’ past relevant work as actually performed as sedentary in exertional demands.

The court remanded “[b]ecause the ALJ failed to address the effect of the VA’s disability rating, if any, on the RFC assessment and the number of available jobs that plaintiff could perform.” R&R at 21. Specifically, the court found that the:

ALJdidnotspecificallyaddresstheconsiderationgiventotheVA’sdisability,ifany, though he did evaluate the medical evidence submitted from the VA at Steps 4 and 5. It is unclear from the ALJ’s written decision whether he was even aware of the VAdisabilityrating,whichdeemedplaintiffeligibleforVAdisabilitybenefitsbased on service-connected carpal tunnel syndrome with degenerative change in his lift wrist (10%) and right wrist (10%), ulcerative colitis (10%), anal fissures (0%), degenerative changes right knee (10%) and left knee (0%), degenerative changes cervical spine (10%), chronic bursitis with degenerative changes left shoulder (10%) and right shoulder (10%), chronic arthralgia with diffuse arthritic changes left ankle (10%), and chronic posttraumatic arthropathy with degenerative changes right ankle (10%), for a combined disability rating of 70%.

Id. at 12 (record citation omitted).

The court rejected the Commissioner’s assertion that “any error in failing to discuss the VA rating was harmless to the ultimate disability determination.” Id. Even though the ALJ is not “required to refer specifically to every piece of evidence in their decision so long as the conclusion as a whole was supported by substantial evidence in the record,” the Magistrate noted that “here the ALJ completely omitted any reference whatsoever to this probative evidence.” Id. at 13 (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005)). As “nothing in the ALJ’s decision” indicated that he “considered the VA disability rating,” making it “impossible to determine whether the ALJ simply overlooked the disability rating, or evaluated it and found it unsupported by other evidence in the record, or found some part of it relevant to the RFC assessment but forgot to include it.” Id. at 14.

The court further noted that,”[o]n remand, should the RFC assessment change, he ALJ must determine whether there is any work available in the national or local economy which he can perform at the sedentary level.” Id. at 21. Thus, the court remanded for “reconsideration of the medical evidence under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).” Id.