United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant James David Old 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 April 4, 1965, and was forty-nine years old
at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 40, 186). He
completed three years of college, and has worked as a
correctional officer, instructor, recruiter, and maintenance
supervisor of firefighter equipment (Tr. 33). The claimant
alleges he has been unable to work since February 28, 2013,
due to arthritis in his back, knees, hips, and shoulder; high
blood pressure; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); being
a carrier of Hepatitis C; asthma; and sleep apnea (Tr. 213).
17, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434. His application was denied. ALJ James
Bentley held an administrative hearing and found that the
claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April
24, 2015 (Tr. 22-35). The Appeals Council denied review, so
the ALJ's opinion is the final decision of the
Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.981.
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b), i. e., except that he required 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 twenty minutes and without leaving
the work station so as not to diminish pace or productions.
Additionally, the ALJ determined that the claimant could only
perform occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; as well as frequent but
not constant handling and fingering bilaterally; and that he
was to avoid unprotected heights and dangerous moving
machinery, as well as exposure to concentrated dust, fumes,
and poorly ventilated areas. Finally, the ALJ stated that the
claimant could perform simple tasks with routine supervision,
and that he could interact with others on a superficial basis
(Tr. 27). 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, e.
g., document preparer, touch-up screener, and
semi-conductor bonder (Tr. 33-34).
claimant argues that the ALJ erred: (i) by failing to
properly account for his Veterans Affairs (VA) disability
rating, and (ii) that evidence submitted to the Appeals
Council undermines the ALJ's determination. The Court
agrees with the claimant's contentions, and the
Commissioner's decision must therefore be reversed and
the case remanded for further proceedings.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, arthritis of
the knee and shoulders, sleep apnea, Hepatitis C, carpal
tunnel syndrome, major depressive disorder, PTSD, and
recently reported episodes of syncope of unknown etiology
(Tr. 24). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the
claimant received most of his treatment through Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, but he was also treated at
the Warren Clinic. With regard to his treatment at the VA,
the claimant was given upon discharge a 100%
service-connected disability rating based on limited motion
of the arm (20%), limited extension of thigh (10%), limited
flexion of knee (10%), degenerative arthritis of the spine
(10%), PTSD (30%), hemorrhoids (20%), migraine headaches
(30%), sleep apnea syndrome (50%), tinnitus (10%), limited
extension of thigh (10%), limited flexion of knee (10%), knee
condition (10%), hiatal hernia (10%), and sinusitis,
maxillary, chronic (10%), as ...