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Jackson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 2, 2017

EVA J. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Eva J. Jackson 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 undersigned Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and the case REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         Social Security Law and Standard of Review

         Disability 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.[2]

         Section 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 the 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 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         The claimant was born on December 10, 1962, and was fifty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 38, 136). She completed the tenth grade, and has worked as hospital food-service worker, poultry hanger, and receptionist (Tr. 31, 168). She alleges that she has been unable to work since June 3, 2011, due to chronic pain in her hands, legs, back, shoulders, and neck (Tr. 168).

         Procedural History

         On April 25, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 27, 2014 (Tr. 20-33). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1481, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), i. e., she could lift/carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally, stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, and she required a sit/stand option, defined as a temporary change in position from sitting to standing and vice versa with no more than one change in position every half hour and without leaving the workstation. Additionally, he found she could only occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, and reach overhead bilaterally, and that she could frequently (but not constantly) handle and finger bilaterally (Tr. 25). The ALJ then concluded that she could return to her past relevant work as a receptionist; alternatively, he found there was work in the economy that she could perform, i. e., furniture rental clerk, storage-facility rental clerk, and information clerk (Tr. 32).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly evaluate the medical evidence related to her fibromyalgia and chronic pain as well as her credibility, and (ii) improperly assessing her RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees that the ALJ's assessment related to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms was not properly conducted, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant's severe impairments consisted of fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and hypertension (Tr. 22). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant largely received treatment at Kiamichi Family Medical Center with Dr. Jon Maxwell. Dr. Maxwell's notes reflect that she began complaining of pain in mid-2011, and was assessed with chronic pain syndrome (Tr. 241). On May 8, 2012, the ...


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