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Glinn 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 Melissa Ann Glinn 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she 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 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 on January 27, 1969, and was forty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 156, 354). She completed two years of college, and has worked as a casino manager and sales clerk (Tr. 151, 395). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since August 24, 2010, due to bipolar disorder, anxiety, seizures, heart disorder, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and split personality (Tr. 122, 394).

         Procedural History

         The claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85, on October 29, 2012. Her applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 22, 2014 (Tr. 120-155). The Appeals Council denied review, so ALJ Bentley'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 decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), i. e., she could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and stand/walk and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, but that she had the additional postural limitations of occasionally stooping, crouching, crawling, kneeling, balancing, and climbing ramps and stairs. Furthermore, he found that she was unable to climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, and that she could have no exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. He determined that she needed a sit/stand option, defined as a temporary change in position every thirty minutes and without leaving the workstation so as not to diminish pace or production. Finally, he limited her to simple tasks with routine supervision, and occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, but no work-related contact with the general public (Tr. 126). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was other work that she could perform, i. e., small products assembler, garment bagger, and electronics worker (Tr. 152).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of two treating physicians, Dr. Mark Rubertus and Dr. Charles Van Tuyl. The Court agrees with the claimant, and the Commissioner's decision should therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of obesity, sleep apnea, seizure disorder (likely pseudoseizures), chronic pain syndrome, type II diabetes mellitus, tachycardia, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, history of left humeral shaft fracture, cervical radiculopathy, neck pain, mild cervical spinal stenosis, spondylitis, bipolar disorder, mood disorder NOS, panic disorder with agoraphobia v. PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and histrionic traits (Tr. 123). Relevant medical records reflect treatment notes from Dr. Rubertus for the claimant from 2007 through 2015. Notes reflect treatment related to various impairments, including seizure disorder (that was largely considered to be pseudoseizures), obesity, PTSD, fibromyalgia, type II diabetes, borderline personality disorder, sleep apnea, panic disorder, GERD (Tr., e. g., 576-757, 1155-1166). Once the claimant's sleep apnea was diagnosed around 2011, Dr. ...

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