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Bratcher v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2018

DONITA K. BRATCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The claimant Donita K. Bracher 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 the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner should be REVERSED and the case 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 August 27, 1962, and was fifty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 29). She completed her GED, and has no past relevant work (Tr. 17, 248). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since her application date of January 31, 2011, due to lupus, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, and arthritis (Tr. 247).

         Procedural History

         On April 14, 2012, the claimant applied for supplemental security income payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her application was denied. ALJ Angelita Hamilton conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 4, 2015 (Tr. 8-19). 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 her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She 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 she could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, and use upper right extremity to overhead reach; she could frequently balance and bilateral reach sideways and forward. Finally, the ALJ determined that work must be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public, and that she must be free of production rate pace (Tr. 14). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant had no past relevant work to return to, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was other work she could perform, i. e., blood donor unit assistant, recreation aide, and cafeteria attendant (Tr. 17-18).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to propose a hypothetical that encompassed all her impairments in the RFC for jobs at steps four and five; (ii) failing to properly consider the evidence, specifically as to state reviewing physicians and consultative examiner opinions; (iii) failing to properly assess her credibility; and (iv) violating res judicata when she referenced evidence form a prior application but did not re-open the earlier claim. Because the ALJ failed to properly analyze the evidence in the record, the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease, as well as the nonsevere impairment of fibromyalgia (Tr. 11). Relevant medical records indicate that the claimant ...


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