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Morgan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 22, 2017

MICHAEL D. MORGAN, 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 Michael D. Morgan 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and the case is REMANDED to the ALJ 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 February 27, 1969, and was forty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 170, 172). He has at least an eighth grade education, [3]vocational training in computer repair and graphic design, and has worked as a graphic designer (Tr. 49, 67). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since an amended onset date of October 31, 2012, due to bipolar disorder, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep disorder, neck and back injuries, a learning disability, high cholesterol, and numbness in his feet and hands (Tr. 37, 192, 239).

         Procedural History

         On October 16, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and on October 19, 2012, he applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 170-77). His applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley held an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated September 9, 2014 (Tr. 13-26). 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 had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with frequent, but not constant, handling and fingering with the right upper extremity, and a sit/stand option defined as a temporary change in position from sitting to standing and vice versa with no more than one change in position every half-hour without leaving the workstation so as to not diminish pace or production (Tr. 17). He further imposed the psychologically-based limitations that the claimant could perform simple, repetitive tasks with routine supervision, and could have occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, but no work-related contact with the general public (Tr. 17). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform in the national economy, e. g., document preparer, clerical mailer, and touch-up screener (Tr. 25).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) account for his moderate difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (ii) evaluate the opinion of counselor Rachel Hattensty. The Court agrees with the claimant's second contention, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of back pain, right hand neuropathy, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, anxiety, mood disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, substance abuse by history, and depression (Tr. 15). The medical evidence related to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that his treatment largely consisted of medication management from varying providers at the Choctaw Nation Medical Center (“CNMC”) (Tr. 354-98, 458-84, 533-630, 683-714, 758-61, 772-858). His mental health treatment at CNMC dates back as far as May 2007, and his diagnoses included panic disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and personality disorder not otherwise specified (Tr. 394-98, 483, 535). In ...


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