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Holsey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 22, 2017

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



         The claimant Gregory G. Holsey 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 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 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

         The claimant was born November 7, 1973, and was forty-one years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 112, 408). He completed a GED in 1996, and has previously worked as a delivery route driver, pizza delivery driver, dish washer, prep cook, and animal caretaker (though not all jobs were performed at the SGA level) (Tr. 148, 367). The claimant alleges inability to work since August 5, 2007, due to depression, ADD, social anxiety, and alcoholism (Tr. 144).

         Procedural History

         On September 29, 2009, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The application was denied. ALJ David W. Engel conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated September 20, 2011 (Tr. 13-27), but the Northern District of Oklahoma reversed in Case No. CIV-13-142-GKF-PJC, and remanded with further instructions (Tr. 462-481). On remand, ALJ Engel conducted a second administrative hearing and again determined the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion date August 17, 2015. The Appeals Council again denied review, so ALJ Engel's 2015 written opinion represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         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 a range of medium, light, or sedentary exertion work, but that he was unable to work in environments where he would be exposed to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery parts. Additionally, he found that the claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions only in a work-related setting; he could interact with co-workers and supervisors under routine supervision; and he could interact occasionally with the general public, whether in person or over the phone (Tr. 260). The ALJ further stated that the claimant was afflicted with symptoms from a variety of sources to include depression, learning disorder, and anxiety, which were of sufficient severity to be noticeable to him at all times, but that the claimant was nevertheless able to remain attentive and responsive in a work setting, and that he would be able to perform work assignments within the above-cited limitations (Tr. 360). The ALJ 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, i. e., hand packager, housekeeper, and document preparer (Tr. 367-369).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) by failing to properly consider the medical evidence, including a consultative examiner's opinion and the state reviewing physician opinions, and (ii) by ignoring a number of impairments and limitations related to his mental impairments. Because the ALJ does appear to have ignored probative evidence regarding the claimant's impairments, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of organic mental disorder, anxiety, and depression (Tr. 358). The mental health evidence in the record indicates that the claimant was treated by Dr. Troy Goldberg, M.D. from part of 2008 to the first half of 2009, who managed his medications at this time (Tr. 220-227). It appears that Dr. Goldberg assessed the claimant with social anxiety disorder, and treatment notes reflect that the claimant reported moods ranging from “ok” to “down, ” ...

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