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Matthews v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 31, 2017

PATRICIA L. MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Patricia L. Matthews (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is 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 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. . .” 42 U.S.C. §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.[1]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “substantiality of the 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

         Claimant was born on March 17, 1955 and was 59 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Claimant completed her education through the eleventh grade. Claimant has worked in the past as a home health provider. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning June 1, 2012 due to limitations resulting from high blood pressure, arthritis, foot problems, and right arm problems.

         Procedural History

         On October 11, 2012, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. On September 20, 2012, Claimant filed an application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.). Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On May 13, 2014, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bernard Porter by video presiding from McAlester, Oklahoma. While Claimant's representative appeared at the hearing, Claimant failed to appear. The ALJ proceeded with the hearing but questioned whether a supplemental hearing should be held. He issued a Request to Show Cause to Claimant to which Claimant's attorney responded that Claimant's ride to the hearing site in Ada, Oklahoma backed out at the last minute and she could not call. The ALJ determined Claimant failed to show good cause as to why she did not appear and found that she had constructively waived her right to appear. He issued an unfavorable decision on August 25, 2014. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on August 25, 2015. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, she did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work. He also determined Claimant could perform medium work.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) failing to properly develop the record regarding Claimant's physical impairments; and (2) failing to perform a proper credibility determination.

         Duty to ...


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