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Crooms v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 27, 2017

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



         The claimant Carolyn D. Crooms 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 decision of the Commissioner 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. Sec'y of Health & Human Svcs., 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 November 13, 1967, and was forty-six years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 55). She has a tenth grade education and a certified nursing assistant certificate, and has worked as a certified nurse assistant (Tr. 56, 73). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since January 1, 2012, due to back pain; low blood count; and arthritis in her wrists, hips, knees, and feet (Tr. 201, 234).

         Procedural History

         On June 12, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ Doug Gabbard, II conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated March 21, 2014 (Tr. 34-45). 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 a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i. e., she could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and sit/stand/walk six hours each in an eight-hour workday, but could only occasionally stoop and crawl (Tr. 39). The ALJ further found the claimant required a sit/stand option every fifteen to thirty minutes without leaving the workstation, and the ability to elevate her feet three to four inches off the ground throughout the workday while seated (Tr. 39). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there because there was work she could perform in the regional and national economies, e. g., ticket seller and cutter-and-paster (Tr. 45).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred in assessing her RFC by failing to properly consider her non-severe impairments at step four of the sequential analysis. The Court agrees, and the decision of the Commissioner is therefore reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairment of lumbar degenerative disc disease, as well as the non-severe impairments of osteoarthritis, obesity, hypertension, systolic murmur, hyperlipidemia, sleeping problems, hypothyroidism, abnormal vaginal bleeding, status post hysterectomy, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, hemorrhoids, tobacco abuse, and plantar fasciitis (Tr. 36). He found her alleged depression was not medically determinable (Tr. 38-39). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant presented to ABC Medical Clinic on October 12, 2010, with, inter alia, pain in her left knee, ankle, and calf, and a burning sensation in her left knee and ankle, and was prescribed pain medication (Tr. 303). The record contains no further evidence of medical treatment until the claimant established care with Dr. ...

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