United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
J. CLEARY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Merrill Fritz, Jr., seeks judicial review of the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. For
the reasons discussed below, the Court holds that the
decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED AND
Social Security Law and Standard of Review
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 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.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see, e.g., Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
“If a determination can be made at any of the steps
that a claimant is or is not disabled, evaluation under a
subsequent step is not necessary.” Lax v.
Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation
and quotation omitted).
One requires the claimant to establish that she is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, as defined by 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. Step Two requires that
the claimant establish that she has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments that significantly
limit her ability to do basic work activities. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). At Step
Three, the claimant's impairments are compared with
certain impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App.1 (“Listings”). A claimant suffering from a
listed impairment or impairments “medically
equivalent” to a listed impairment is determined to be
disabled without further inquiry. If not, the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) proceeds to determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC). 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945. At Step Four, the claimant
must establish that he does not retain the RFC to perform his
past relevant work, if any. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant's
Step Four burden is met, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to establish at Step Five that work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy which the
claimant, taking into account his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, can perform. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1566, 416.966. Disability benefits are
denied if the Commissioner meets this burden at Step Five.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in
scope to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was
supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the
correct legal standards were applied. Hamlin v.
Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004).
“Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052
(quotation and citation omitted). Although the court will not
reweigh the evidence, the court will “meticulously
examine the record as a whole, including anything that may
undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
then a fifty-three-year-old male, filed his application for
Title II benefits on August 1, 2014. (R. 129-32). He alleged
a disability onset date of January 3, 2014. (R. 129). He
alleged that he is disabled due to depression, severe
anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and GERD. (R. 161).
Plaintiff's claims for benefits were denied initially on
September 25, 2014, and on reconsideration on December 2,
2014. (R. 53-80, 83-87, 89-91). Plaintiff then requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), and the ALJ held a hearing on October
23, 2015. (R. 29-50). The ALJ issued a decision on December
2, 2015, denying benefits and finding plaintiff not disabled
because he was able to perform other work. (R. 13-28). The
Appeals Council denied review, and plaintiff appealed. (R.
1-6; dkt. 2).
found that plaintiff was insured through December 31, 2018,
and had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since
his alleged disability onset date of January 3, 2014. (R.
18). The ALJ found at Step Two that plaintiff had severe
impairments of “hearing loss, anxiety, and
depression.” Id. His alleged impairments of
sleep apnea and hypertension “do not support findings
of severity, ” and plaintiff testified that although he
was overweight, the excess weight did not cause any
limitations. (R. 18-19). Plaintiff's impairments did not
meet or medically equal a listing. (R. 19). In assessing the
severity of his anxiety and depression, the ALJ reviewed
those impairments using the “paragraph B”
criteria and determined that plaintiff had moderate
limitations in the areas of activities of daily living;
social functioning; and concentration, persistence, or pace.
(R. 19-20). Plaintiff had not experienced any episodes of
decompensation. (R. 20).
then discussed plaintiff's testimony, a third-party
function report from plaintiff's wife, and the opinions
and treatment notes from plaintiff's treating physician
and licensed social worker at the VA. (R. 21-23). Based on
this evidence, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity to perform the full range of
work at all exertional levels with the following limitations:
“He must avoid loud or continuous noise in a workplace
or workplaces with hazards such as heights, opening [sic]
machinery or moving vehicles. He is limited to simple,
repetitive tasks. He is able to relate to supervisors and
co-workers only superficially. He cannot work with the
public.” (R. 20).
could not perform his past relevant work as an
“industrial maintenance repairer” because it was
skilled work with an SVP of 8. (R. 23). However, based on the
testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff could perform other work, such as a janitor or hand
packager. (R. 24). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled. Id.
appeal, plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ erred in evaluating
the medical opinion evidence; and (2) that the ALJ's
credibility findings are not supported by substantial