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Kincaid 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 Laura Kincaid 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 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 May 8, 1992, and was twenty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 26). She has a high school education, some college, and vocational training in nail technology, and has worked as a storage laborer, sales clerk, and stocker (Tr. 27, 38-39). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since June 16, 2010, due to schizophrenia (Tr. 136, 140, 164).

         Procedural History

         On May 2, 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 Doug Gabbard, II conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated June 17, 2014 (Tr. 12-20). 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, 416.1481.

         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 unskilled work, defined as work that needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job, at all exertional levels with the following limitations: (i) occasional understanding, remembering, and completing detailed instructions; (ii) simple, direct, and concrete supervision; (iii) interpersonal contact with supervisors and co-workers incidental to the work performed, e. g., assembly work; and (iv) no contact with the general public (Tr. 16). The ALJ concluded that the claimant was not disabled because she could return to her past relevant work as a store laborer, and alternatively because there was work that she could perform in the national economy, e. g., auto detailer, janitor, bundle clerk, and window cleaner (Tr. 19-20).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to consider all of the evidence related to her mental impairment in making his RFC findings. The Court agrees and the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of “affective, anxiety and schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders.” (Tr. 15). The medical record reveals that the claimant was involuntarily admitted to St. Francis Hospital and Health Services on June 16, 2010 (Tr. 419-448). Upon admission, she made no eye contact; her speech was hyper-verbal, pressured, and nonsensical; and her affect was irritable, expansive, labile, and inappropriate (Tr. 423). The claimant was stabilized and discharged on June 28, 2010, in improved status with diagnoses of major depressive disorder, severe, recurrent with psychotic features and posttraumatic stress disorder (Tr. 421). The following month, the claimant was admitted to Griffin Memorial Hospital for depression and confusion (Tr. 486-501). Upon admission, she was paranoid, looked somewhat confused, and had a flat affect with crying spells, poor insight, and poor judgment (Tr. 486). Dr. A. Sameer Mohammed noted the claimant showed a remarkable improvement in her thought process once she resumed medication (Tr. 487). Dr. Mohammed discharged ...

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