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Wesley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 22, 2017

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



         The claimant Wilma S. Wesley 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 2, 1967, and was forty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 47). She has a high school education, and has worked as a cashier, short order cook, housekeeper, and poultry eviscerator (Tr. 55-56, 222). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since August 18, 2010, due to fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and degenerative disc disease in her lower back (Tr. 221).

         Procedural History

         On October 19, 2011, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 205-10). Her application was denied. ALJ Doug Gabbard, II conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated June 27, 2014 (Tr. 16-31). 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. § 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 sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), i. e., she could lift and/or carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk about two hours total during an eight-hour workday; sit for about six hours total during an eight- hour workday; and occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl (Tr. 21). The ALJ also found the claimant must be allowed to alternately sit and stand every fifteen minutes throughout the workday in order to change positions, but without leaving the workstation (Tr. 21). 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., cutter-and-paster and final assembler (Tr. 30-31).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) find her obesity qualified as medically equivalent to a Listing, (ii) properly consider her non-severe carpal tunnel syndrome, and (iii) properly assess her credibility. Because the Court finds the ALJ did fail to properly consider her obesity and assess her credibility, 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 obesity, osteoarthritis, bilateral degenerative joint disease with pain, lumbar disc disease, fibromyalgia, and psoriatic arthritis, but that her diabetes, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome status post surgeries, and sleep problems were non-severe (Tr. 18). The medical record reveals sporadic treatment for knee and/or leg pain prior to February 2011 (Tr. 300-12, 502-04). The imaging contained in the record includes June 2012 x-rays of the claimant's knees which revealed early degenerative medial and lateral ...

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