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Foster v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 27, 2017

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



         The claimant Loresa Foster 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 herby REVERSED and the case 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 13, 1958, and was fifty-four years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 80). She has a high school education and certified nursing and medication assistant training, and has worked as a certified nursing aide, and a certified medication aide (Tr. 93-94, 209). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since November 10, 2010, due to systemic lupus, scleroderma, Raynaud's syndrome, Sjogren's syndrome, and depression (Tr. 153, 208).

         Procedural History

         On March 7, 2011, the claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied. ALJ Richard J. Kallsnick conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated October 12, 2012 (Tr. 56-63). 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.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) (Tr. 59). The ALJ concluded that the claimant was not disabled because she could return to her past relevant work as a certified medication aide and certified nurse's aide, and because there was other work that she could perform in the national economy, e. g., arcade attendant, video clerk, and clerical mailer (Tr. 61-62).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) consider all the evidence in finding the claimant had no episodes of decompensation; (ii) consider and account for all of her mental impairments; (iii) properly determine the mental demands of her past relevant work; (iv) apply the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”) to find her disabled; and (v) perform a proper credibility determination. The Court finds the claimant's last contention persuasive, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of limited scleroderma, Sjogren's syndrome, and Raynaud's syndrome, but that her alleged depression and anxiety were non-severe (Tr. 58-59). The medical record as to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that the claimant was admitted to St. John Hospital due to depression on June 30, 2004, and that she was receiving ongoing counseling for major depressive disorder as of July 12, 2004, but there are no specific treatment notes in the record related to this hospitalization (Tr. 250, 255, 260, 266, ...

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