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Bland v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 22, 2017

TAMRA L. BLAND, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         The claimant Tamra L. Bland requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is hereby 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 h[er] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] 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 August 21, 1971, and was forty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 29, 144). She completed twelfth grade, and has worked as a meat trimmer, office helper, and data entry clerk (Tr. 22, 169). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since September 27, 2012, due to low back pain that radiates to her tailbone and legs, and spondylosis (Tr. 168).

         Procedural History

         On October 3, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied. ALJ James Bentley held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated June 13, 2014 (Tr. 11-23). 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 the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except that she required a sit/stand option defined as a temporary change of position from sitting to standing and vice versa with no more than one change of position every half hour and without leaving the workstation. Additionally, he found the claimant could only occasionally use her upper extremities, stoop, crouch, and crawl (Tr. 16). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform, i. e., surveillance system monitor, call out operator, and election clerk (Tr. 23).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ failed to properly weigh her subjective complaints. The Court agrees, and the decision of the ALJ should be reversed and remanded.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of lumbar radiculitis/radiculopathy, low back pain, lumbosacral spondylosis without myelopathy, cervical radiculitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, medial nerve entrapment, and obesity (Tr. 13). A July 6, 2012 x-ray of the lumbar spine revealed a pars defect at ¶ 5 with mild listhesis (Tr. 279). On July 9, 2012, the claimant was limited to less than ten pounds and to moderate activity as tolerated, based on her back pain with radiculopathy, by Dr. Brad Stewart (Tr. 287). Beginning in August 2012, the claimant underwent a number of epidural steroid injections (Tr. 294, 301). In January 2013, the claimant was noted to have a slowed gait and decreased range of motion and pain with range of motion in the back, and was assessed with degenerative spondylolisthesis (Tr. 323). She continued to complain of pain and received treatment at the Paragon Pain & Rehabilitation ...

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