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Quinton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 28, 2017

SEQUOYAH D. QUINTON, 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 Sequoyah D. Quinton requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in determining he 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 his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his 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 on November 7, 1969, and was forty-four years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 41). He has a high school education, some college, and has worked as a private investigator, police officer, dispatcher, and internal security manager (Tr. 42, 55). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since October 29, 2007, due to high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, Fuch's dystrophy, and problems with his back, shoulder, neck, and knee (Tr. 141, 171).

         Procedural History

         On October 13, 2011, 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 insurance payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 (Tr. 136-48). The claimant's applications were denied. ALJ Doug Gabbard, II conducted an administrative hearing, and in a decision dated January 24, 2014, found that the claimant was not disabled prior to December 27, 2012, but became disabled on that date, and continued to be disabled through the date of his decision (Tr. 17-29). 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 five of the sequential evaluation. For the period prior to December 27, 2012, the ALJ found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b) (Tr. 22-26). Beginning December 27, 2012, the ALJ found that the claimant had the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: (i) occasional contact with the pubic and understanding, remembering, and completing detailed tasks; (ii) semi-skilled work defined as, work which requires some detail skills, but does not require doing more complex work duties; (iii) interpersonal contact with coworkers and supervisors on a superficial work basis; (iv) ability to alternately sit and stand every fifteen minutes throughout the workday without leaving the workstation; (v) sitting and/or standing no more than four hours total per day, with the ability to lie down the other four hours; and (vi) frequent unscheduled work breaks and work absences (Tr. 26). The ALJ concluded that the claimant was not disabled before December 27, 2012, because he could return to his past relevant work as a security supervisor (Tr. 27). The ALJ then found the claimant disabled as of December 27, 2012, because there were no jobs in the national economy that he could perform (Tr. 28-29).

         Review

         The claimant appeals the ALJ's decision as it relates to his impairments and resulting limitations prior to December 27, 2012. The claimant contends that the ALJ's decision for the period prior to December 27, 2012 is against the substantial weight of the evidence, and not based on all of the medical evidence in the record. In support of his first contention, the claimant asserts that Dr. Schatzman's consultative exam supports a more limited RFC for the period prior to December 27, 2012. The Court finds the ALJ did err in his analysis of Dr. Schatzman's opinion, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant's failed back syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and hypertension were severe impairments, and that his right knee injury, Fuch's dystrophy, right shoulder injury, and depression were non-severe (Tr. 20-21). The relevant medical record reveals that on October 29, 2007, the claimant was struck by a vehicle as it was backing up, and thereafter underwent three back surgeries (Tr. 284-304). On March 31, 2008, Dr. Donnie Hawkins removed hardware at ¶ 5 and S1 which were placed during a previous back surgery in 2002, performed decompressive laminectomies at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1 due to spinal stenosis, performed a discectomy at ¶ 4-5 due to a herniated disc, and performed a fusion with instrumentation at ¶ 4-5 due to instability (Tr. 464-85). On January 26, 2009, Dr. Hawkins removed the hardware placed in March 2008, performed decompressive laminectomies with foraminotomies at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1 due to recurrent stenosis, excised pseudoarthritis at ¶ 4-5, and re-fused L4-5 due to non-union (Tr. 408-25). On March 24, 2010, Dr. Hawkins removed the ...


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