United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Michael Griffith 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 should be 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 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.
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. Sec'y of Health
& Human Svcs., 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
claimant was born February 17, 1983, and was thirty-one years
old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 33). He
completed high school, and has worked as a stocker, car
salesman, welder, truck driver, and mechanic industrial truck
driver (Tr. 54-56, 204). The claimant alleges he has been
unable to work since December 31, 2012, due to a back injury,
left leg injury, and left hip injury (Tr. 203).
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, on June 26, 2013. His applications were denied. ALJ
Trace Baldwin held an administrative hearing, then ALJ John
W. Belcher determined that the claimant was not disabled in a
written opinion dated April 16, 2015 (Tr. 12-240). The
Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's decision
represents the Commissioners' final decision for purposes
of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984,
of the Administrative Law Judge
Belcher 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 light work,
i. e., he could lift/carry/push/pull twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pound frequently, stand/walk and sit six
hours in an eight-hour workday, and that he could frequently
climb stairs and balance, but only occasionally bend, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl (Tr. 16). As such, the ALJ concluded
that the claimant was not disabled because he could return to
his past relevant work as a car salesman and stocker (Tr.
claimant argues that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate the opinion of his chiropractor, Dr. Gene Mills. He
alleges that this was compounded by the fact that the ALJ
misconstrued the opinions of treating physician Dr. Malone
and consultative examiner Dr. Ronald Schatzman. The
undersigned Magistrate Judge finds that the ALJ did
fail to properly evaluate the evidence in the record,
and the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and
the case remanded for further proceedings.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of chronic
back pain due to lumbosacral and thoracic spine injury and
obesity, as well as the nonsevere impairments of left leg and
left hip impairment, fracture of three ribs, hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, and depression (Tr. 14). The relevant medical
evidence reflects that the claimant was in a motor vehicle
rollover accident on December 31, 2012, and was diagnosed
with a pulmonary contusion, closed L1 vertebral fracture,
closed wedge compression fracture of T12 vertebra, and closed
wedge compression fracture of T11 vertebra (Tr. 295, 303,
310). The claimant was discharged on January 2, 2013, and
instructed not to drive and to wear his brace whenever he was
up and ambulating, at least until he was evaluated for follow
up three weeks later (Tr. 343). A note from the
claimant's treating physician indicates that the brace
prescribed him needed adjusting because it was not fitting
right on January 9, 2013 (Tr. 322). Dr. David G. Malone
continued follow-up treatment for the claimant. His notes
reflect that he found the claimant temporarily unable to work
in the immediate aftermath of the injury, and on March 14,
2013, he noted that the claimant's fracture was healing,
but that he still had a kyphotic deformity as expected, and
noted that the claimant had a 30-pound lifting restriction,
no pulling of hoses, and no ...