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Nanney v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2017

MICHAEL D. NANNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Michael D. Nanney 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and 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[.]” 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.[2]

         Section 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 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

         The claimant was born April 26, 1975, and was thirty-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 34, 210). He completed ninth grade, and has worked as a laborer and heavy equipment operator (Tr. 27, 224). The claimant alleges inability to work since January 2, 2012, due to a herniated disc in lower back, chronic pain, and inability to lift more than twenty pounds (Tr. 223).

         Procedural History

         On September 24, 2010, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Both applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April 4, 2014 (Tr. 16-29). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the Commissioner's final decision 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 had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), finding that he could lift/carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently, stand/walk at least two hours in an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, but that he must have a sit/stand option defined as a temporary change in position from sitting to standing and vice versa with no more than one change in position every half hour and without leaving the workstation. Additionally, the ALJ found that the claimant could only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Finally, the ALJ determined that the claimant was limited because he was illiterate (Tr. 21-22). The ALJ 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., assembler, cutter and paster, and lens inserter (Tr. 28-29).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred: (i) by failing to properly consider the medical evidence, specifically with regard to weighing a consultative examiner's opinion and treatment records; and (ii) by failing to properly evaluate his subjective symptoms. Because the ALJ does appear to have ignored probative evidence regarding the claimant's impairments, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease with sciatica and multilevel degenerative disc disease, as well as the nonsevere impairments of GERD, rhinitis, and depression (Tr. 18-19). The relevant medical evidence demonstrates that the claimant was treated for two scorpion bites on his thigh after reporting that he had not felt the bites because his thigh was numb (Tr. 287). He was assessed with degenerative joint disease with sciatica (Tr. 287). A November 20, 2012 MRI of the spine revealed multilevel degenerative disc disease with mild spondylotic disc bulges and facet arthropathy, superimposed minimal central disc herniation at ¶ 3-L4, asymmetric left foraminal disc bulge at ¶ 12-L1 resulting in left foraminal stenosis, multilevel Schmorls nodes, small S1 hemangioma versus focal fat, and mild grade compression fracture of T12 (Tr. 300). Records dated January 2, 2014 from the claimant's treating facility indicate that his gait was steady but that he had limited/painful range of motion with flexion/extension, that he had ...


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