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Dowell v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 11, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Stewart Dowell applied to the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) for disability benefits and supplemental social security income benefits in 2011, claiming that he was disabled due to knee injuries, a neck condition, a cardiac condition, and sleep apnea. (AR, ECF No. 9-2, at 11, 15- 16.)[1] In February of 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on Dowell's application, and ultimately determined that Dowell is not disabled under the Social Security Act. Dowell then filed the instant lawsuit, requesting that this Court reverse the ALJ's denial decision and grant him benefits. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.)

         On February 3, 2016, this Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge for full case management. (See Min. Order of Feb. 3, 2016.) On April 14, 2016, Dowell filed a motion asking the Court to either reverse the Commissioner's decision or remand this matter back to the agency for a new hearing, arguing that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and that decision is erroneous as a matter of law. (See Pl.'s Mot. for J. of Reversal, ECF No. 12, at 1.) Thereafter, on May 24, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for affirmance of the ALJ's decision, arguing that Dowell failed to meet his burden of establishing that he was disabled, and “that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that the very limited and sparse evidence in the record did not support Dowell's allegations of disabling impairments as of December 31, 2007, ” which is the date that he was last insured for the purposes of disability insurance benefits. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Her Mot. for J. of Affirmance & in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for J. of Reversal, ECF No. 13, at 3-4).

         Before this Court at present is the Report and Recommendation that the assigned Magistrate Judge, Deborah A. Robinson, has filed regarding Dowell's motion for reversal and Defendant's motion for affirmance. (See R. & R., ECF No. 17.)[2] The Report and Recommendation reflects Magistrate Judge Robinson's opinion that Dowell's motion for reversal or remand should be granted, and that Defendant's motion for affirmance should be denied. (See Id. at 1-2, 42.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Robinson finds that the ALJ's findings regarding Dowell's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) with respect to Dowell's knee and leg conditions was not supported by substantial evidence, because the ALJ failed to consider and discuss the functional limitations that these conditions placed Dowell's ability to perform the physical demands of the work activities that are listed in the relevant regulations. (See Id. at 6- 8.) Magistrate Judge Robinson further finds that the ALJ committed legal error with respect to his determination of Dowell's RFC “by failing to provide a logical explanation for his RFC findings as required by Social Security Ruling 96-8p.” (Id. at 10.)

         In addition to articulating these conclusions, Magistrate Judge Robinson's Report and Recommendation also advises the parties that either party may file written objections to the Report and Recommendation, which must include the portions of the findings and recommendations to which each objection is made and the basis for each such objection. (Id. at 11.) The Report and Recommendation further advises the parties that failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of further review of the matters addressed in the Report and Recommendation. (Id.) Under this Court's local rules, any party who objects to a Report and Recommendation must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party's receipt of the Report and Recommendation. LCvR 72.3(b). The due date for objections has passed, and none have been filed.

         This Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Robinson's report and agrees with its careful and thorough analysis and conclusions. Thus, the Court will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Reversal will be GRANTED; Defendant's Motion for Affirmance will be DENIED; and this matter will be REMANDED to the Commissioner for rehearing.

         A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.


         Plaintiff Steward Dowell (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action against the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal of an Administrative Law Judge's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Compl. (ECF No. 1) ¶ 4. This matter was referred to the undersigned for full case management. 02/03/2016 Minute Order. Pending for consideration by the undersigned are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF No. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance (“Defendant's Motion”) (ECF No. 13). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the administrative record, and the entire record herein, the undersigned will recommend that the Court grant Plaintiff's Motion and deny Defendant's Motion.


         Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on September 29, 2011, pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. Pl.'s Mem. (ECF No. 12-1) at 1. Plaintiff alleged disability, commencing on December 31, 2007, based on knee injuries, a neck condition, a cardiac condition, and sleep apnea. Id. Defendant denied Plaintiff's claims initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 2.

         On October 24, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Administrative Record (“AR”) (ECF No. 9-4) at 76. The hearing took place on February 11, 2014. Pl.'s Mem. (ECF No. 12-1) at 2. On April 25, 2014, Administrative Law Judge F. H. Ayer (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's claim, finding that Plaintiff was not “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR (ECF No. 9-2) at 17. In the decision, the ALJ used the five-step process to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled. Id. at 12-17. First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the application date. Id. at 12. Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, status post cervical discectomy, and status post tibial and fibular fractures with open reduction and internal fixation. Id. Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 12-13. Further, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform “light” work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) with the following limitations: “only occasionally lifting and carrying of a maximum of 20 pounds; frequently lifting and carrying a maximum of 10 pounds; and only occasional bending and overhead reaching with the non-dominant left upper extremity.” Id. at 13. Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. Id. at 15. Fifth, relying on a vocational expert's testimony, with the consideration of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ ultimately determined that “jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed[, ]” and thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 17.

         Following the unfavorable decision, Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's findings. AR (ECF No. 9-2) at 6. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request on June 25, 2015. Id. at 1. To reverse the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff filed an action in this Court on September 21, 2015. Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 1.[1]

         STATUTORY ...

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