United States District Court, D. Columbia
ELTON WILLIAMS, Plaintiff: Stephen F. Shea, LEAD ATTORNEY,
ELKIND & SHEA, Silver Spring, MD.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Defendant: Alexander Lee Cristaudo, Lauren Donner Chait, LEAD
ATTORNEYS, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Philadelphia, PA.
G. Sullivan, United States District Judge.
Elton Williams (" Mr. Williams" ) brings this
action for judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("
the Commissioner" ) denying his claims for Supplemental
Security Income Benefits. Pending before the Court are Mr.
Williams's Motion for Judgment of Reversal and the
Commissioner's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance. Docket
Nos. 8, 9. Upon consideration of the parties'
submissions, the administrative record, the governing
statutory and case law, and for the following reasons, Mr.
Williams's Motion is GRANTED; the
Commissioner's Motion is DENIED; and
this action is remanded to the Commissioner for further
proceedings in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion.
Williams, born October 18, 1955, is a veteran seeking
Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et
seq. (" the Act" ). Mr. Williams has a high
school education and no past relevant work experience.
Administrative Record (" AR" ) at 53-54. Mr.
Williams alleges that he is unable to work due to mental
health issues including auditory hallucinations. Id.
April 29, 2011, Mr. Williams was admitted to the
Veteran's Administration (" VA" ) hospital in
Washington, DC. AR at 494. He reported symptoms consistent
with depression and auditory hallucinations instructing him
to commit suicide. Id. at 499. Mr. Williams was
hospitalized at the VA until May 17, 2011. Id. at
538. Following his release, he was monitored by the VA's
suicide prevention program. Id. at 557. Mr. Williams
subsequently reported to the VA for bi-weekly injections of
risperidone, a psychotropic medication, and to participate in
group counseling. Id. at 571, 589. The risperidone
injections helped reduce his auditory hallucinations to
non-violent whispers. Id. at 59-60, 571. On
September 19, 2012, upon a determination that he was no
longer considered a high risk, Mr. Williams was released from
the suicide prevention program. Id. at 619.
Williams lives with his niece in Southeast Washington, DC. AR
at 53, 60. His daily activities include preparing food for
himself, straitening up the house, and running small errands
for his niece. Id. at 60. Mr. Williams is unable to
drive due to poor vision, but is able to walk and use public
transportation. Id. at 60-61.
Williams filed for SSI benefits on February 2, 2011, alleging
disability due to mood swings, paranoia, and bipolar
disorder. AR at 224. The Commissioner denied Mr.
Williams's claims on August 19, 2011 and denied his
request for reconsideration on January 12, 2012. Id.
at 95-97, 102-05. At Mr. Williams's request, an
Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) held a hearing
on his application on April 22, 2013. AR at 49-71. On April
26, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Mr. Williams
was not disabled at any time through the date of his
decision. Id. at 28. Mr. Williams's request for
Social Security Appeals Council review was denied on March
20, 2014, at which time the ALJ's determination became
the " final decision" of the Commissioner for the
purposes of judicial review. Id. at 1-5; see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This lawsuit followed.
Standard of Review
405(g) of the Social Security Act provides for judicial
review of " final decisions" of the Commissioner of
Social Security. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On review, the
court must uphold the Commissioner's determination where
it is " supported by substantial evidence" and
" not tainted by an error of law." Porter v.
Colvin, 951 F.Supp.2d 125, 129 (2013)
(citing Smith v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121, 264
U.S.App.D.C. 104 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). " Substantial
evidence" is " such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Brown v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705,
253 U.S.App.D.C. 409 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d
Even if supported by substantial evidence, however, the court
will not uphold the Commissioner's findings if the
Commissioner reached them by applying an erroneous legal
standard." Jackson v. Barnhart, 271 F.Supp.2d
30, 33 (D.D.C. 2002); see also Coffman v.
Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (" A
factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached
by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the
law." ). To determine whether the Commissioner's
decision is free from legal error and supported by
substantial evidence, the court must " carefully
scrutinize the entire record," but " may not
reweigh the evidence and replace the [Commissioner's]
judgment regarding the weight of the evidence with its
own." Jackson, 271 F.Supp.2d 30, 34 (citing
Davis v. Heckler, 566 F.Supp. 1193, 1195 (D.D.C.
qualify for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" )
under Title XVI of the Act, the applicant must establish that
he is " disabled" as defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(a)(1). " Disability" refers to the
inability to " engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason for any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected
to last for a ...