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Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 27, 2017

PATRICE WILSON, 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 Patrice Wilson 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 March 1, 1972, and was forty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 40). She has a high school education, some college, and has worked as a bill collector, claims clerk, receptionist, and medical record clerk (Tr. 66, 188). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since February 23, 2009, due to major depression, bipolar disorder, hypothyroidism, hypersensitive cardiovascular disease, brittle diabetes, a sleep disorder, anxiety, and other (unspecified) psychiatric disorders (Tr. 65, 241).

         Procedural History

         On February 29, 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 Bernard Porter conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 2, 2014 (Tr. 15-27). 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 step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), except that she was limited to frequent handling, fingering, and feeling; occasional use of hand controls, climbing ramps and stairs, and interaction with supervisors and co-workers; and could never climb ladders or scaffolds, crawl, work at unprotected heights or around moving mechanical parts, be exposed to temperature extremes, or interact with the public (Tr. 20). The ALJ further found the claimant required a sit/stand option that allowed a change of position at least every thirty minutes, and was limited to simple tasks and simple work related decisions (Tr. 20). Due to episodic symptomology, the ALJ also found the claimant may miss one day per month (Tr. 20). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that she could perform in the regional and national economies, e. g., small products assembler, electrical assembler, and conveyor line bakery worker (Tr. 25-27).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) account for her mental impairments, and (ii) assess her credibility. The Court finds these contentions 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 bipolar disorder, history of polysubstance abuse, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, sleep apnea, anxiety disorder, history of carpal tunnel with corrective surgery, personality disorder, and thyroid disorder (Tr. 18). The medical record reveals the claimant was admitted to Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital for psychiatric stabilization on May 1, 2008, after reporting increased irritability, a depressed mood, lethargy, fatigue, and a general decrease in her level of functioning (Tr. 260-69). She was discharged on May 5, 2008, and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe; cannabis abuse; amphetamine abuse; hypertension; hypothyroidism; and diabetes (Tr. 269). Dr. Michael Dubriwny noted he was unclear whether the claimant's lethargy was related to her mood disorder or substance abuse, but that her financial distress contributed to her symptoms (Tr. 269). Dr. R.T. Bowden managed the claimant's psychotropic medications from August 2011 through May 2012, when he discharged her from his care due to noncompliance (Tr. 854-60, 902). The claimant also participated in counseling with Gayle McDonald from October 2011 ...


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