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Caraway v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 24, 2017

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



         The claimant Lacinda G. Caraway 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 the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and the case is REMANDED 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 April 19, 1976, and was thirty-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 118). She has a high school education and vocational training in cosmetology, and has worked as an administrative assistant, cashier checker, sales clerk, and cosmetologist (Tr. 193, 634). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since an amended onset date of January 1, 2012, due to chronic back pain, back surgeries, back injury, fibromyalgia, depression, arthritis, hypoglycemia, migraine headaches, sleep apnea, and a temporomandibular joint disorder (Tr. 192).

         Procedural History

         On July 23, 2013, 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 March 23, 2015 (Tr. 11-40). 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 could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds (Tr. 21). Additionally, he found she 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 (Tr. 21). Due to psychologically based symptoms, the ALJ also found the claimant could remember and carry out simple tasks with routine supervision, and could have occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public (Tr. 21). 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., document preparer, clerical mailer, and production worker (Tr. 37).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly analyze the opinions of treating physician Dr. Nance Weddle, and consultative examiner Dr. Ronald Schatzman. The Court finds that the ALJ did fail to properly analyze Dr. Weddle's opinion, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of post-surgical syndrome, lumbar spine; failed back syndrome; migraine headaches; fibromyalgia; right knee pain post-surgical meniscus repair; obesity; dysthymia, early onset; post-traumatic stress disorder; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified; and dependent personality traits (Tr. 13). He then determined that her recurrent cystitis, status post gastric bypass surgery, iron deficiency, anemia, hypoglycemia, allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, insomnia, and temporomandibular joint disorder were non-severe, and that her alleged chest pain, gallstones, and problems with her hands were medically non-determinable (Tr. 13-17). The record reflects that the claimant underwent three lumbar spine surgeries between March 2007 and August 2009. On March 22, 2007, Dr. Daniel Boedeker performed a left L5-S1 microdiskectomy with microdissection, wherein the herniated portion of her L5-S1 disc was removed (Tr. 320-21). On September 30, 2008, Dr. Patrick Han performed an ...

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