United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Beverly Ann Smith requests judicial review of a
denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She
appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining she was not disabled. For the reasons discussed
below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and
the case REMANDED for further proceedings.
Security Law and Standard of Review
under the Social Security Act is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A
claimant is disabled under the Social Security Act
“only if h[er] physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only
unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering
h[er] age, education, and work experience, engage in any
other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the
national economy[.]” Id. § 423 (d)(2)(A).
Social security regulations implement a five-step sequential
process to evaluate a disability claim. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
405(g) limits the scope of judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision to two inquiries: whether the
decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether
correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v.
Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997).
Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971), quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); see also Clifton v.
Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1996). The Court
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its discretion for
the Commissioner's. See Casias v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Svcs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991).
But the Court must review the record as a whole, and
“[t]he substantiality of evidence must take into
account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its
weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340
U.S. 474, 488 (1951); see also Casias, 933 F.2d at
claimant was born December 4, 1971, and was forty-two years
old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 33, 125).
She has a high school education, some college, and a
certified nursing assistant license, and has no past relevant
work (Tr. 37-38, 142). The claimant alleges that she has been
unable to work since July 13, 1999, due to rheumatoid
arthritis, degenerative bone disease, osteopenia, and chronic
pain (Tr. 141).
March 14, 2012, the claimant applied for supplemental
security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her application
was denied. ALJ Bernard Porter conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated April 23, 2014 (Tr. 14-23). The
Appeals Council denied review; thus, the ALJ's written
opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes
of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), except that she was
limited to frequent handling, fingering, feeling, balancing,
stooping, crouching, and interaction with supervisors,
co-workers, and the public; occasional reaching overhead,
climbing ramps and stairs, use of hand or foot controls, and
kneeling; and could never climb ladders or scaffolds, crawl,
work at unprotected heights or around dangerous moving
machinery, or be exposed to temperature extremes (Tr. 20).
Due to psychologically based symptoms, the ALJ also found the
claimant could perform simple tasks and make simple work
related decisions (Tr. 20). Due to episodic symptomology, the
ALJ further found the claimant would be off task five percent
of the workday (Tr. 20). Lastly, the ALJ found the claimant
required a sit/stand option every thirty minutes (Tr. 20).
The ALJ concluded that the claimant was not disabled because
there was work she could perform in the national and regional
economies, i. e., document preparer, touchup
screener, and suture winder (Tr. 28).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i)
properly evaluate the medical evidence; (ii) perform a proper
determination at steps four and five; and (iii) perform a
proper credibility determination. The Court finds the
claimant's third contention persuasive, and the decision
of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case
remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, reflux disease
(“GERD”), migraine headaches, poly neuropathy,
depression, anxiety disorder, obesity, obsessive compulsive
disorder, schizophrenia, ventral hernia, remote history of
pelvic and femur fracture (in 1999), lumbar disc disease,
degenerative joint disease of the hands and feet, and
hypothyroidism (Tr. 18). The relevant medical evidence
reveals that the claimant regularly sought treatment from Dr.
Paul Reel between March 2009 and December 2009, and again
between January 2012 and April 2014 (Tr. 333-45, 350-63,
395-401, 425-29, 469-92). Her diagnoses relevant to her
disability claim included diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid
arthritis, polyneuropathy, and polyarticular joint pain. Dr.
Reel's treatment largely consisted of medication
management, including pain medicines, immunosuppressants, and
steroids. An MRI of the claimant's lumbar spine performed
on March 28, 2012, revealed lumbar spondylosis with
degenerative changes, and degenerative changes at ¶ 5-S1
(Tr. 300). At a follow-up appointment on June 5, 2012, the
claimant reported involuntary muscle movements and slurred
speech that began after a medication change (Tr. 355). She
returned to her original medication, and by November 11,
2012, her symptoms had improved, but were not fully resolved
(Tr. 350, 355). There are no further treatments notes