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Cox-Graham v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 13, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Angela R. Cox-Graham (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the recommendation of the undersigned that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and the case REMANDED 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.[1]

         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: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “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

         Claimant was born on September 5, 1962 and was 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant completed her high school education. Claimant has worked in the past as a grocery checker and sacker, convenience store cashier, and manager at McDonald's. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning April 20, 2012 due to limitations resulting from pain in the head, back, arms, legs, and feet, anxiety, numbness and tingling on the right side after a stroke, and concentration and memory problems.

         Procedural History

         On April 28, 2009, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) and for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing, he issued an unfavorable decision on January 4, 2011 which was subsequently reversed by this Court and remanded for further proceedings to consider new and material evidence presented after the hearing.

         Claimant then filed a Title II application for widow's benefits on September 18, 2012 and an application for Title XVI benefits on September 14, 2012. The Appeals Council directed that the ALJ combine the subsequent claims with the prior claims remanded on appeal and issue a new decision. After a second administrative hearing, an ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council, however, found that the ALJ had failed to follow their directive to combine the claims and remanded the case with instructions.

         On May 26, 2015, a third administrative hearing was conducted by ALJ Deborah L. Rose by video with Claimant appearing in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the ALJ presiding in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On July 31, 2015, the ALJ issued a third unfavorable decision. Claimant did not seek review by the Appeals Council and, therefore, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, she retained the RFC to perform a reduced range of light work with limitations.

         Error ...

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