United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Diane Ballard 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 set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is herby 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. Secretary of Health
& Human Services, 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 15, 1959, and was fifty-four years
old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 203). She
has a high school education and certified nursing assistant
training, and has worked as a certified nurses' aide and
kennel manager (Tr. 77, 223). The claimant alleges that she
has been unable to work since an amended onset date of April
29, 2013, due to mood disorder, degenerative disc disease,
anxiety, depression, insomnia, shoulder muscle spasms,
nervousness, and problems concentrating (Tr. 65, 241).
4, 2013, the claimant filed her current application for
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her
application was denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an
administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was
not disabled in a written opinion dated December 24, 2014
(Tr. 42-60). The Appeals Council denied review, so the
ALJ's written opinion is the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R.
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) perform medium work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except that she was limited
to frequent stooping and crawling, and occasional contact
with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public (Tr. 46).
The ALJ further found the claimant could understand,
remember, and manage most simple and more complex
instructions and tasks; could adequately adjust socially and
emotionally into most settings; and could perform
goal-oriented work, but could not perform at a production
rate (Tr. 46). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant
could not return to her past relevant work, she was
nevertheless not disabled because there was work that she
could perform in the national economy, e. g.,
janitor, laundry worker, and dining room attendant (Tr.
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i)
account for her non-severe impairment of shoulder muscle
spasms at steps four and five, (ii) perform a proper
credibility determination, (iii) properly determine the
mental and physical demands of her past relevant work, and
(iv) apply the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the
“Grids”) to find her disabled. The Court finds
the claimant's second proposition 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
lumbar degenerative disc disease, early onset dysthymia,
anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, and dependent
personality traits, but that her alleged impairments of
endometriosis and shoulder muscle spasms were non-severe (Tr.
15-18). The medical record as to her physical impairments
reveals that physician assistants at Stigler Choctaw Health
Clinic managed the claimant's pain medications (Tr.
289-343, 434-42, 464-535). Physician assistant Gwen
Hendrix's treatment notes from July 2009 through May 2011
reflect that the claimant's lumbar region was frequently
tender to palpation, and that she had intermittent decreased
range of motion in her back (Tr. 339-40, 477-512). Ms.
Hendrix prescribed opioid and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
pain medications through June 13, 2011, when she informed the
claimant that she needed to obtain her pain medication from
an outside provider (Tr. 338-43, 477-532). There are no
treatment notes related to the claimant's back between
August 2011 and January 2013 (Tr. 296-336). On June 12, 2013,
Ms. Hendrix noted the claimant had decreased range of motion
in her back, pain with all movement, and tenderness in her
lumbar region (Tr. 440-41). She referred the claimant for a
lumbar spine MRI, the results of which revealed a shallow,
broad-based disc bulge with a small posterior disc protrusion
at ¶ 1-2, ...