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Edwards v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 25, 2017

RENEE D. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Renee D. Edwards (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED to Defendant 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. . .” 42 U.S.C. §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.[1]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “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

         Claimant was 44 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Claimant completed her high school education and three years of college. Claimant also completed her insurance license training. Claimant has worked in the past as a insurance specialist, insurance agent, and retail manager. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning November 1, 2009 due to limitations resulting from cyclical vomiting syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, and syncope.

         Procedural History

         On March 28, 2012, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) and for supplemental security income under Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On October 30, 2014, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James Bentley in McAlester, Oklahoma. By decision dated December 30, 2014, the ALJ denied Claimant's request for benefits. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on March 28, 2016. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 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 determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, she did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) failing to perform a proper analysis at steps four and five; (2) failing to properly evaluate the medical and non-medical source evidence; and (3) failing to perform a proper credibility determination.

         Evaluation at ...


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