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Jamison v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 28, 2017

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



         The claimant Sabrina M. Jamison 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 December 30, 1970, and was forty-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 228). She has an eleventh grade education, and has worked as an outside deliverer, secretary, collection clerk, customer service representative, and insurance agent (Tr. 109, 114). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since January 1, 2006, due to fibromyalgia, sciatica, degenerative disc disease, hypothyroidism, migraine headaches, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 276).

         Procedural History

         On November 21, 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 James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 8, 2014 (Tr. 57-74). 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”) perform a limited range of light work, i. e., she could lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; could sit/stand/walk for six hours total during an eight-hour workday; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; and could never reach overhead (Tr. 65). The ALJ also found the claimant required a sit/stand option defined as temporary changes in position from sitting to standing, and vice versa, with no more than one change in position every half hour without leaving the workstation (Tr. 65-66). Due to psychologically based factors, the ALJ further found the claimant could perform simple tasks with routine supervision, could have occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, and no contact with the public (Tr. 66). 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 national economy, e. g., small products assembler, inspector packer, and electrical accessory assembler (Tr. 73-74).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) find her fibromyalgia, arthritis, and mixed connective tissue disease were severe impairments, (ii) incorporate limitations in the RFC related to her muscle and joint pain, (iii) properly evaluate the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Robert Spray, (iv) properly assess her credibility, (v) properly evaluate the Third Party Function Report submitted by her neighbor, and (vi) pose a proper hypothetical question to the vocational expert (“VE”). The Court finds the claimant's third and fourth propositions 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 major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorder with avoidant features, minimal degenerative disc disease, pain disorder, hypertension, migraines with no photosensitivity, and obesity (Tr. 59-63). The medical record reveals that Dr. James Russell diagnosed the claimant with mixed connective tissue disease on February 24, 2006, after she reported significant joint pain “all over” (Tr. 457). At a follow-up appointment on May 15, 2016, the claimant indicated to Dr. Russell that a ...

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