United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
RONALD L. HALL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Ronald L. Hall 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 January 21, 1961, and was fifty-four
years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 40,
141). He has an eleventh grade education, and has worked as a
ranch hand, concrete laborer, machine shop production worker,
and truck driver (Tr. 38, 46). The claimant alleges that he
has been unable to work since June 1, 2013, due to cervical
spinal stenosis, and problems with his lower back, right hip,
legs, and knees (Tr. 141, 163).
claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, on September 9, 2013, and for supplemental security
insurance payments under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 on April 4, 2014 (Tr.
141-50). The claimant's applications were denied. ALJ
James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing, and in a
decision dated March 12, 2015, found that the claimant was
not disabled prior to January 22, 2015, but became disabled
on that date, and continued to be disabled through the date
of his decision (Tr. 21-29). On November 17, 2015, the
Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision, and
determined that the claimant was not disabled through March
12, 2015 (Tr. 4-8). The Appeals Council's decision
represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes
of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
of the Administrative Law Judge and Appeals Council
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of
light work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b),
416.967(b), i. e., he could occasionally lift and/or
carry twenty pounds; frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds;
sit/stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; could
frequently, but not constantly, handle and finger
bilaterally; could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, couch,
and crawl; and could never reach overhead, or climb ladders
or scaffolding (Tr. 24). Additionally, the ALJ found the
claimant required a sit/stand option defined as a temporary
change in position from sitting to standing and vice versa
without leaving the work station (Tr. 24). The ALJ concluded
that the claimant was not disabled before January 22, 2015,
because there were jobs in the national economy that he could
perform, i. e., small product assembler, electrical
accessory assembler, and inspector packager (Tr. 27-28). The
ALJ then applied Medical-Vocational (“Grid”) Rule
202.02 and found the claimant disabled as of January 22, 2015
Appeals Council found that substantial evidence supported the
ALJ's findings with respect to the claimant's
impairments and RFC, but that the ALJ made an error of law at
step five by applying Grid Rule 202.02 to find the claimant
disabled as of January 22, 2015 (Tr. 4-8). The Appeals
Council determined that the claimant was fifty-four years old
as of January 22, 2015 (the disability onset date), and as a
result, was in the “closely approaching advanced
age” category rather than the “advanced
age” category the ALJ used (Tr. 5). The Appeals Council
also found that a borderline age situation did not exist
since the clamant was not within a few days to a few months
of reaching the older age category as of the onset date (Tr.
5). Accordingly, the Appeals Council applied Grid Rule 202.11
and concluded that the claimant was not disabled from the
alleged onset date of June 1, 2013, through March 12, 2015
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate the opinion of treating physician Dr. Richard
Helton. The Court agrees, and the ...