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Ransom v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 9, 2017

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



         The claimant Junior DeWayne Ransom requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should 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 his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his 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 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 March 15, 1972, and was forty-three years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 275). He completed the twelfth grade, received job training in security in 1992, and has worked as a fast food cook, hospital housekeeper, and sewing machine factory worker (Tr. 17, 177). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since May 15, 2009, due to hearing problems and complications arising from severe burns on his legs and feet received during his childhood (Tr. 173).

         Procedural History

         On June 16, 2009, 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. His applications were denied. ALJ Peter M. Keltch conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated January 24, 2012. (Tr. 8-19). The Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed and remanded in Case No. CIV-13-103-FHS-SPS (Tr. 306-324). On remand the Appeals Council consolidated this case with subsequent applications by the claimant, and ALJ Larry D. Shepherd held a second administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant as not disabled in a written opinion dated November 4, 2015 (Tr. 247-257). The Appeals Council again denied, review, so ALJ Shepherd's written opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step 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) and 416.1967(b), i. e., he could lift/carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently, and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday and stand/walk for at least two hours in an eight-hour workday. The ALJ imposed the additional limitations of only occasionally climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and using foot controls. Further, the ALJ stated that the claimant was to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and heavy machinery, but that he could perform work where oral communication is not an essential job function (Tr. 250). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that he could perform, e. g., patcher, final assembler of optical goods, and stuffer (Tr. 255-256).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred: (i) by failing to adequately evaluate his subjective complaints, and (ii) because the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence, specifically as it related to his legs. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's first contention for the following reasons.

         ALJ Shepherd determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of sensorineural hearing loss and status post burn injuries (Tr. 250). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant went to the Central Oklahoma Family Medical Center (COFMC) for treatment of pain in his left knee, left foot, and bilateral ankles. He was advised to obtain corrective shoes and see a podiatrist (Tr. 218). The claimant returned to COFMC in June and August of 2009, reporting that he continued to have pain in his legs and that he could no longer stand for any period of time without pain and discomfort (Tr. 219-220). As part of his treatment plan, the claimant was directed to begin elevating his legs throughout the day, and to obtain inserts for his shoes to treat the pes planus (Tr. 223). At his follow-up appointment in August, the claimant had not obtained inserts, but reported some relief of his symptoms with elevating his legs at home (Tr. 225). Musculoskeletal exams revealed full knee extension, reduced knee flexion, reduced ankle extension, ...

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