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Miller v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 10, 2017

BOBBY E. MILLER, 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 Bobby E. Miller 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 May 31, 1950, and was sixty-five years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 25, 221). He completed tenth grade, and has no past relevant work (Tr. 18, 249). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since January 1, 1994, due to his lungs, heart, and diabetes (Tr. 248).

         Procedural History

         On October 20, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. His application was denied. ALJ Jeffrey S. Wolfe held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated June 23, 2015 (Tr. 12-20). 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 the claimant's alleged onset date of January 1, 1994 through the date last insured of December 31, 1997, the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), i. e., he could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand/walk for six hours during an eight-hour workday and had no limitations on his ability to sit. Additionally, the ALJ found the claimant could frequently handle and finger bilaterally, but that he could only occasionally reach overhead bilaterally, crouch, kneel, bend, and squat. Finally, the ALJ found the claimant must refrain from exposure to noxious dusts, odors, gases, fumes, and areas of poor ventilation in the workplace (Tr. 16). The ALJ thus concluded that although the claimant had no past relevant work to return to, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., mail clerk, bakery worker, and counter clerk (Tr. 18-20).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) relying solely on the opinion of the physician who testified at the administrative hearing rather than evaluating all the evidence in formulating his RFC, (ii) failing to properly weigh a treating physician opinion that the claimant was disabled, and (iii) improperly assessing his credibility. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and status-post bilateral carpal tunnel surgeries on the right and left (Tr. 15). During the relevant time period for this case, records from the Veteran's Administration (VA) indicate that the claimant underwent carpal tunnel release for both wrists, was considered to have moderately active pulmonary inflammatory disease, and there was some consideration given to whether the claimant had asbestosis given pleural calcification on the diaphragm (Tr. 295, 299, 324, 328, 379-393, ...


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