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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 27, 2017

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



         The claimant Bradley W. Johnson 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed 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 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 April 25, 1991, and was twenty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 140). He has a high school education, vocational training in auto mechanics, and no past relevant work (Tr. 34, 68). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since an amended onset date of March 8, 2012, due to depression, schizophrenia, asthma, and panic disorder with agoraphobia (Tr. 33, 36, 163).

         Procedural History

         On March 12, 2012, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 140-48). His application was denied. ALJ Bernard Porter held an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated July 10, 2014 (Tr. 12-22). 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. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders or scaffolds, work around unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts, or have concentrated exposure to humidity, wetness, dust, fumes, or gasses; and must avoid temperature extremes (Tr. 16). The ALJ further imposed the psychologically-based limitations that the claimant was limited to simple tasks and simple work-related decisions, occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers, and no interaction with the public (Tr. 16). Additionally, the ALJ found that the claimant would be off-task up to five percent of the workday (Tr. 16). The ALJ then concluded that although claimant had no past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform in the national economy, e. g., housekeeper/cleaner, small products assembler, and inspector/packer (Tr. 20-21).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) account for his moderate difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (ii) evaluate the medical evidence, specifically, the opinions of social workers Ashley Brown-Boyd and Lori Bachman, and treating physicians Dr. Dyson and Dr. Word. The Court agrees that the ALJ did err in his analysis of the treating and “other source” evidence, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), depression, personality disorder, asthma, and persistent left superior vena cava (Tr. 15). The medical evidence related to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that the claimant was treated for panic disorder with agoraphobia at Southwest Arkansas Counseling & Mental Health Center (“SACMH”) from June 2007 through March 2013 (Tr. 283-370, 402-06, 409-10, 427-50). On October 23, 2007, the claimant established care with psychologist Cathy Word, Ph.D., an SACMH provider, who regularly treated him for panic disorder until June 2011 (Tr. 314-36). Dr. Word generally noted the claimant was making good progress towards treatment goals, however, she did note a relapse of panic symptoms in January 2010 after his grandmother was hospitalized (Tr. 323). On January 21, 2010, Dr. Word wrote a letter to the claimant's high school requesting an accommodation due to his anxiety and lasting until he no longer required prescription anti-anxiety medication (Tr. 563-64). Specifically, she requested that the claimant be allowed to ...

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