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Prater v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 10, 2017

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



         The claimant Edward Neal Prater, Jr. requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The claimant appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he 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 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[.]” 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 February 28, 1970, and was forty-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 73, 213). He completed the twelfth grade, and has worked as a bus driver, janitor, caregiver, bus driver shop helper, and correction officer (Tr. 64, 250). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since September 5, 2012, due to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, problems with his knees and legs, unstable angina, obesity, shortness of breath, and fatigue (Tr. 249).

         Procedural History

         On September 5, 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. His applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated June 19, 2014 (Tr. 58-66). 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, 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 retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except that he required a sit/stand option defined as a temporary change in position from sitting to standing and standing to sitting with no more than one change per hour without leaving the work station (Tr. 61). The ALJ thus concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., order clerk, touch up screener, and optical goods assembler (Tr. 65).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly weigh his subjective complaints, and (ii) failing to include all his limitations in his RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's first contention, and the Commissioner's decision should be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of morbid obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease/angina (Tr. 60). The claimant was prescribed a CPAP machine in 2011, but was considered noncompliant after initiating treatment but failing to follow up (Tr. 335). In August 2012, the claimant complained of chest pain and was treatment for uncontrolled hypertension and obesity, as well as interomedial left circumflex ostial lesion revealed in an angiogram (Tr. 369-370). In December 2012, the claimant went to the hospital for treatment of cellulitis and was diagnosed with diabetes II while in the hospital (Tr. 422). Between August 1, 2012, and January 3, ...

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