United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Nikita Marie Cearley 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.
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 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.
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
claimant was born September 4, 1986, and was twenty-seven
years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 35,
175). She completed twelfth grade, and has previously worked
as a cashier II, change booth cashier, cleaner housekeeper,
and food service worker (Tr. 27, 202). The claimant alleges
inability to work since February 1, 2011, due to bipolar
disorder, paranoia, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 201).
November 21, 2012, 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. The applications were denied.
ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and
determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written
opinion dated June 17, 2014 (Tr. 18-28). 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,
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but with the nonexertional limitations of
being limited to simple, repetitive tasks with routine
supervision, only occasional contact with supervisors and
co-workers, and no work-related contact with the general
public (Tr. 23). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant
could not return to her past relevant work, she was
nevertheless not disabled because she could perform the
requirements of a representative occupation such as silver
wrapper (Tr. 26-27).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred: (i) by failing to
properly weigh the opinion of her treating physician, Dr.
Wellie Adlaon, and (ii) because she lacks the RFC to perform
significant gainful activity. Because the ALJ does appear to
have ignored probative evidence regarding the claimant's
impairments, the decision of the Commissioner must be
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
methamphetamine abuse in remission, alcohol abuse in
remission, cannabis abuse in remission, paranoid personality,
major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, and personality disorder, as well as the nonsevere
impairments of insomnia, severe hemorrhoids, asthma, obesity,
and Bell's palsy (Tr. 21). The relevant medical evidence
demonstrates that the claimant was largely treated for basic
medical care at the Choctaw Nation Health Center in
McAlester, Oklahoma (Tr. 302-333). The claimant also received
mental health treatment and medication management from Dr.
Wellie Adlaon in McAlester. His treatment notes reflect a
diagnosis of adjustment disorder (Tr. 394-415, 418-427). In
May 2012, he noted she was still reporting racing thoughts
and that she had minimal though content and abnormal
concentration in that she could not maintain it (Tr. 398).
Almost a year later, in April ...