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Court Remands and Reverses SSA Commissioner's Decision

by Raymundo Ribota / January 6, 2021

Steve Eugene Mooney, III sought judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration’s final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Mr. Mooney’s case was heard by the United States District Court in Oklahoma. The Court reversed the Commissioner’s decision and remanded the case for further consideration.

Background

Mr. Mooney filed a claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) in June 2017. He claimed he was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative judge (ALJ) found the Plaintiff met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act through December 2019. The ALJ concluded the Plaintiff retained the ability to perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ concluded Mr. Mooney was not disabled according to the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Mooney request for review, making the ALJ decision final.

Standard of Review

The U.S. District Court in Oklahoma was required to determine whether the Commissioner’s decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and if the correct legal standards were applied. Substantial evidence is the ‘relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’

Commissioner’s Decision

In the first step of the evaluation, the ALJ found the Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 2017. Next, the ALJ found the Plaintiff’s medically determinable severe impairments included “degenerative disc disease, depressive disorder, migraines, and obesity.” At step three, the ALJ found none the impairments met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment. Next, the ALJ formulated the Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (RFC). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work. This included work as a corrections officer, electrician, automotive mechanic, or diesel mechanic. The ALJ used Medical-Vocational rules to determine the transferability of skills were immaterial in the decision regarding Mr. Mooney’s disability. The ALJ determined there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Mooney could perform.

Analysis

The ALJ concluded the Plaintiff’s allegations of pain that included migraine headaches were inconsistent with the medical record. The U.S. District Court disagreed and found them dispositive. The Court found the ALJ misstated the record and failed to discuss relevant and highly probative medical evidence. The ALJ only cited portions of the State consultative examiner’s opinions that supported his conclusion regarding the disabling effects of Plaintiff’s back injuries. The Court found the ALJ ignored the examiner’s opinion that Plaintiff’s ‘migraine headaches do appear to require critical care.’

Mr. Mooney received medical treatment from Veteran’s Administration (VA) medical facilities. The VA originally assessed his migraine headaches at 30% disabling. In November 2016, the VA reassessed his migraine headaches and increased the severity to 50%, the highest percentage available for migraines. The VA found Plaintiff entitled to 100% of his available benefits based on his inability to “secure or follow a substantial gainful occupation as a result of service. The ALJ “correctly” stated “he need not defer to any prior administrative findings.” The ALJ found the VA Disability Rating not persuasive because “the same is not supported by the evidence.” The Court stated the ALJ failed to discuss the VA evidence underlying its disability rating. It found the ALJ misstated the record by stating Plaintiff was prescribed medication for his migraines while relying on Plaintiff having received no emergency care for his migraines. The Court noted this step “would not be necessary if one already had prescribed medication and in any event, is not a requirement for a disability finding.” The Court found the evidence the ALJ based his decision was overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary.

Conclusion

The U.S. District Court reversed and remanded the Commissioner’s decision on December 18, 2020. For more information on appealing decisions by the Social Security Administration, contact the Rocky Mountain Disability Group Law Group.

Tags: Colorado Veterans Disability Lawyer Social Security Disability social security disability attorney Social Security Disability attorney Colorado Social security disability benefits VA Disability Benefits

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