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Shannon v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 2, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         The claimant Karrie Ann Shannon requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. As discussed 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[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 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]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘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). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         The claimant was born on December 20, 1973, and was thirty-nine years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 89). She completed four or more years of college, and has worked as a safety inspector and general inspector (Tr. 76, 254). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since June 30, 2003, due to back pain, fibromyalgia, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, stiffness, myopia, astigmatism, dry eye syndrome, renal calculi, blepharitis, bilateral heel spurs, and swollen lymph nodes (Tr. 253).

         Procedural History

         On November 2, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied. ALJ Bernard Porter held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated March 17, 2014 (Tr. 64-78). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written decision represents the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that from June 30, 2003 through December 31, 2006, her date last insured, the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of sedentary work, but could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and never climb ladders or scaffolds, crawl, work around unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts, or work in temperature extremes. He further found that time off tasks would be accommodated by normal breaks, but that she would be allowed a sit/stand option to change positions every thirty minutes (Tr. 69). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform, i. e., touch-up screener, suture winder, and table worker (Tr. 76-77).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ failed to: (i) evaluate the opinion of her chiropractor, (ii) properly consider her subjective symptoms, and (iii) account for all her impairments in formulating the RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's second contention, and the Commissioner's decision should therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of kidney stones, gout, obesity, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, cervical, thoracic, and lumbar strain, and sleep apnea, as well as the nonsevere impairments of myopia, astigmatism, dry eye syndrome, blepharitis, heel spurs, and swollen lymph nodes (Tr. 68). The medical evidence during the relevant time period (June 2003 through December 2006) reveals that the claimant was treated for a viral upper respiratory infection (Tr. 529-530), and one kidney stone (Tr. 613, 737), and treatment notes from this time reflect she had a history of rheumatoid arthritis (Tr. 547). In 2004, the claimant gave birth (Tr. 1244). Her obstetrician prepared a letter ...

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