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Linn v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 24, 2017

RHYDONNA GAIL LINN, 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 Rhydonna Gail Linn requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision 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[.]” 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 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 October 21, 1968, and was forty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 124). She has a master's degree in psychology, and has worked as a bartender and counselor (Tr. 33, 54). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since an amended onset date of December 15, 2011, due to breast cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, syncope, a history of substance abuse, and a heart condition (Tr. 157, 188).

         Procedural History

         On February 24, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated January 24, 2014 (Tr. 14-25). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion represents 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), 416.967(a), except that she was limited to simple tasks with routine supervision; occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public; and could not be exposed to unprotected heights or dangerous, moving machinery (Tr. 18). 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 in the national and regional economies, i. e., dial maker, bonder, and paramutual ticket checker (Tr. 24).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) evaluate the medical evidence, and (ii) assess her credibility. The Court agrees with the claimant's second contention, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of cholecystitis, breast cancer stage 1A, anxiety, and polysubstance abuse in remission (Tr. 23). As to the claimant's mental health, the record reveals Dr. Sean Boone managed her anxiety from November 2007 through December 2010 (Tr. 366-81). In October 2008, the claimant participated in sixteen hours of intensive outpatient treatment groups at The Center for Counseling and Health Resources to address depression, relationship issues, addictions, and anxiety (Tr. 279-325). The claimant established care with Dr. Teddy Rowland on January 10, 2012, and reported hyperventilation, insomnia, panic attacks, and light-headedness ...


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