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Norris v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

June 14, 2016

Cora Denise Rogers Norris, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Cora Denise Rogers Norris (“Plaintiff”) filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2012). The Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner’s final decision denying Plaintiff’s claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (ECF No. 27 at 24.) The court entered an Order rejecting the Magistrate Judge’s Report (ECF No. 27), reversing the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff’s claim for DIB and SSI, and remanding the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with its decision pursuant to sentence four (4) of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 32.) The matter is now before the court upon Defendant’s Motion to Alter Judgment. (ECF No. 34.)

         For the reasons explained below, this court DENIES Defendant’s Motion to Alter Judgment. (ECF No. 34.)

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB and SSI on October 25, 2010, alleging disability since July 28, 2003. (ECF No. 14-5.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff’s claims initially and on reconsideration. (ECF No. 14-3.)

         Plaintiff’s request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) was granted, and the ALJ issued a decision on December 17, 2012, denying Plaintiff’s DIB and SSI claims.[1] (ECF No. 14-2.) In accordance with 20 §§ C.F.R. 404.970(b), 416.1470(b) (2015), Plaintiff submitted additional evidence from Brent Bridwell, M.D., (ECF No. 19-1), in support of her disability claim to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision, stating:

We considered the reasons you disagree with the [ALJ] decision. . . . We found that this information does not provide a basis for changing the Administrative Law Judge’s decision. We also looked at medical reports dated June 24, 2013 from Brent Bridwell, MD (6 pages). . . . This new information is about a later time. Therefore, it does not affect the decision about whether you were disabled beginning on or before December 17, 2012.

(ECF No. 14-2.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         20 C.F.R. § 404.970(b) (2015) of the Social Security Act’s administrative scheme governs the circumstances under which the Appeals Council is to review an ALJ’s decision. The provision provides: “The Appeals Council shall evaluate the entire record including . . . new and material evidence submitted if it relates to the period on or before the date of the administrative law judge hearing decision.” § 404.970(b); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.976 (2015) (“The Appeals Council will consider all the evidence in the administrative law judge hearing record as well as any new and material evidence submitted to it which relates to the period on or before the date of the administrative law judge hearing decision.”) (emphasis added). Considering these regulations, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has stated: “[T]he regulation sets forth a mandatory rule that the Appeals Council must consider new and material evidence relating to the period prior to the ALJ decision in determining whether to grant review, even though it may ultimately decline review.” Wilkins v. Sec’y, Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 953 F.2d 93, 95 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing case law from sister circuits). “The Appeals Council must consider evidence submitted with the request for review in deciding whether to grant review if the additional evidence is (a) new, (b) material, and (c) relates to the period on or before the date of the ALJ's decision.” Id. at 95-96 (citation omitted).

         B. The Court’s Order

         In its original Order remanding this case, this court explained:

[T]he only discernible consideration for the Appeals Council regarding Dr. Bridwell’s report was whether it related to the period on or before the ALJ decision. (See ECF No. 14-2.) Specifically, the Appeals Council limited its explanation as to why Dr. Bridwell’s report did not relate to Plaintiff’s relevant disability period to the fact that the medical report was dated after the ALJ decision. Id.
But courts consistently have suggested that the date of the new evidence presented before the Appeals Council is not dispositive of whether the Appeals Council should consider it. See, e.g., Nance v. Astrue, No. 7:10-CV-218-FL, 2011 WL 4899754, at *7 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 20, 2011) report and recommendation adopted, No. 7:10-CV-218-FL, 2011 WL 4888868 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 13, 2011) (remanding the case to the ALJ after finding “relevant” a medical report dated close to six months after the ALJ’s decision); Venters v. Astrue, No. CIV.A. TMD 08-1736, 2010 WL 481246, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 4, 2010) (remanding the case to the ALJ and stating: “Although prepared after the ALJ's decision, Dr. Mathur's report pertains to Claimant's pre-decision period.”); see also, e.g., Williams v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 214, 216 (8th Cir. 1990) (“The timing of the examination [to be presented as evidence before the Appeals Council] is not dispositive . . . . If it were, all evidence obtained after the date of an ALJ decision would fail to meet the new and material standard. . . . In this case Dr. Wheatt's report states that ‘[t]his patient has suffered from chronic mental illness since her early adult hood [sic].’ Although this statement does not identify the date Ms. Williams' disability began, it does provide a sufficient basis to conclude that Dr. Wheatt's report relates to the period on or before the date ...

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