United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
LEE E. RUSHING SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Lee E. Rushing Smith 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 is hereby REVERSED and
the case REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings.
Security Law and Standard of Review
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.
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
claimant was born on October 26, 1964, and was forty-nine
years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 44).
He has a high school education and vocational training in
welding, and has worked as a forklift driver and infantryman
(Tr. 44-45, 70-71). The claimant alleges that he has been
unable to work since August 11, 2009, due to posttraumatic
stress disorder and peripheral neuropathy (Tr. 49, 267).
claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, on March 30, 2012 (Tr. 233-34). The claimant's
application was denied. ALJ Edward L. Thompson conducted an
administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not
disabled in a written decision dated March 17, 2014 (Tr.
19-34). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's
decision represents the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at steps four and five of the sequential
evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited
range of medium work, i. e., he could occasionally
lift and/or carry (including upward pulling) fifty pounds;
frequently lift and/or carry (including upward pulling)
twenty-five pounds; sit/stand/walk (with normal breaks) for a
total of six hours each in an eight-hour workday; and
occasionally reach overhead bilaterally, crawl, and climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds (Tr. 27-28). Additionally, the
ALJ found the claimant could understand, remember, and carry
out simple and some complex work tasks for a sustained period
of time, at an appropriate pace, with only limited contact
with the general public (Tr. 28). The ALJ concluded that the
claimant was not disabled because he could return to his past
relevant work as a forklift driver, and alternatively because
there were other jobs in the national economy that he could
perform, i. e., hand packager, salvage laborer,
housekeeping cleaner, extrusion press operator, and label
coder (Tr. 32-34).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i)
properly evaluate the opinion of consultative examiner Dr.
Shalom Palacio-Holman, and (ii) account for his peripheral
neuropathy in determining his RFC. The Court finds both
contentions persuasive, and the decision of the Commissioner
must therefore be reversed.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of
peripheral neuropathy, lower extremities, mild to moderate,
mixed sensory motor axonal degenerating in type, distal more
than proximal; degenerative joint disease, bilateral
shoulders; affective disorder; anxiety-related disorder;
alcohol abuse; and a substance abuse disorder (Tr. 21). The
record reveals the claimant was largely treated at the Jack
C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center
(“VAMC”) by nurse ...