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Cragg v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 22, 2017

ROBERT E. CRAGG, JR., 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 Robert E. Cragg, Jr., requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The claimant appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. As 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 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 on August 18, 1983, and was thirty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 62). He completed high school, and has worked as a fast food worker, fast food cook, tractor driver, trust worker, and farm worker (Tr. 53, 164). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since May 16, 2009, due to bipolar disorder and depression (Tr. 45, 163).

         Procedural History

         The claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, on March 28, 2012 and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85, on April 23, 2012. His applications were denied. ALJ Richard J. Kallsnick conducted an administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April 9, 2014 (Tr. 45-54). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his final decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the nonexertional limitations of performing simple tasks with routine supervision, relating to supervisors and peers on a superficial work basis, and that he can adapt to a work situation, but cannot relate to the general public (Tr. 49). 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, i. e., industrial cleaner, light hand packer, sorter, and sedentary hand packer (Tr. 53-54).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly assess his RFC, and (ii) failing to properly account for the opinion of one of his treatment providers. The Court agrees with both of these contentions, and the Commissioner's decision should therefore be reversed for further proceedings.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder and panic disorder (Tr. 48). The relevant medical evidence in the record indicates that the claimant has been treated for a number of years for bipolar disorder and insomnia since prior to the alleged onset date (Tr. 230-295). Treatment notes indicate the claimant frequently reported medications not working, or there was a need to adjust/strengthen doses (Tr. 230-295) Additionally, the ...


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