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Bowden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 25, 2017

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



         The claimant Rodney E. Bowden 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 the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and the case is 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 on April 12, 1966, and was forty-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 34, 117). He completed the eleventh grade while attending special education classes, and has worked as a construction laborer (Tr. 23, 133). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since May 16, 2011, due to deep depression and back problems (Tr. 133).

         Procedural History

         On May 16, 2011, the claimant applied for supplemental security income payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. His application was denied. ALJ J. Frederick Gatzke held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated June 6, 2014 (Tr. 11-25). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He determined that the claimant had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that he was precluded from work around dangerous moving machinery. Furthermore, the ALJ determined that the claimant must avoid work that requires no more than occasional collaboration with co-workers with only superficial contact with the public and simple one to two step job instructions (Tr. 17). The ALJ found that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that he was capable of performing, i. e., janitor, hand packer, and assembler (Tr. 23-24).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred: (i) by failing to properly assess his impairments with regard to the Listings, particularly as to Listing 12.05C in the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, and (ii) by failing to properly consider the evidence regarding his mental impairments. The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds that the ALJ did fail to properly determine whether the claimant satisfied the criteria of Listing 12.05C, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be reversed.

         The claimant reported in his application that he completed the eleventh grade and attended special education classes (Tr. 133). Additionally, the claimant testified at the administrative hearing that he was in special education classes while in school, and that he did not have a ...

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