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Ball v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 27, 2019


         SECTION “H” (2)



         Plaintiff Patricia Ball seeks judicial review pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), terminating plaintiff's supplemental security income benefits ("SSI") due to medical improvement under Title XVI of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(4). The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.2E(B).


         In an administrative decision dated December 4, 2003, the Commissioner found plaintiff disabled as of March 1, 2003, due to depression, which the Commissioner found met Listing 12.04. (Tr. 10, 49). On December 11, 2014, the Commissioner performed a continuing disability review and found that plaintiff had experienced medical improvement related to her ability to work, and was no longer disabled as of December 1, 2014. (Tr. 9, 58-59). This determination was upheld upon reconsideration after a disability hearing held on February 5, 2016, before a Disability Hearing Officer in Harvey, Louisiana. (Tr. 9; 61-83). Plaintiff waived her right to appear at the February 2016 hearing (Tr. 65-66).

         Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 27, 2017. (Tr. 25-48). Although informed of her right to representation, plaintiff chose to appear and testify without the assistance of an attorney or other representative. (Tr. 110-11; 118). The ALJ issued a decision on May 18, 2017, confirming the Commissioner's earlier determination that Ball's medical improvement caused her disability to end on December 1, 2014, and that she had not become disabled again since that date for purposes of the Act. (Tr. 9-18). On May 23, 2017, Ball requested review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 119-20). After review, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision on April 12, 2018, and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this court's review. (Tr. 1-3).

         Plaintiff filed her complaint in this court on May 9, 2018. Record Doc. No. 1. She filed a timely memorandum of facts and law on August 31, 2018. Record Doc. No. 11. The Commissioner filed her reply memorandum on November 1, 2018. Record Doc. No. 14.


         Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner made the following errors:

A. The ALJ erred at step 1 of the sequential evaluation for cessation of disability benefits in finding that Ball does not meet Listing 12.05 for intellectual disorders and had insufficient evidence to support this finding.
B. The ALJ improperly found that plaintiff experienced medical improvement because the record was incomplete as it did not include the Comparison Point Decision[1] or plaintiff's medical records dating back to the time of that decision.

         Record Doc. No. 11 at p. 6.


         The ALJ made the following findings relevant to the issue on appeal:

1. The most recent favorable medical decision finding that plaintiff was disabled was a determination dated December 4, 2003. This is known as the "comparison point decision" ("CPD").
2. At the time of the CPD, plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairment: depression. This impairment was found to meet section 12.04 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
3. As of December 1, 2014, plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments: right hip bursitis, lumbar degenerative disc disease with disc bulging, obesity, bilateral knee osteoarthritis, depressive disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, heart murmur and hypertension. These are plaintiff's current impairments.
4. Since December 1, 2014, Ball has not had an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. Medical improvement occurred as of December 1, 2014.
6. The medical improvement is related to plaintiff's ability to work because, as of December 1, 2014, plaintiff's CPD impairment no longer met or medically equaled the same listing that was met at the time of the CPD.
7. Beginning on December 1, 2014, plaintiff has continued to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. The above-listed medically determinable impairments, excepting heart murmur and hypertension, are severe.
8. Beginning on December 1, 2014, based on her current impairments, plaintiff has had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with certain postural limitations. Mentally, plaintiff is limited to performing tasks commensurate with a Specific Vocational Preparation ("SVP") Rating of two or less, with no more than occasional interaction with the public.
9. Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
10. On December 1, 2014, plaintiff was a younger individual ...

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