United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
BETTY J. POTEET-HAYES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Betty J. Poteet-Hayes 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 that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining she was not disabled. For the reasons discussed
below, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and
the case 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 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.
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
claimant was born May 22, 1961, and was fifty-three years old
at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 40, 253). She
completed eleventh grade, and has no past relevant work (Tr.
31, 321). The claimant alleges inability to work since
December 15, 2009, due to back problems, right arm problems,
right leg problems, and depression (Tr. 320).
April 17, 2012, the claimant applied for disabled widow's
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 April 10, 2012. The applications
were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated January 7, 2015 (Tr. 21-33). 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. §§ 404.981,
of the Administrative Law Judge
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.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i. e., she
could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently, and stand/walk/sit each for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. However, he imposed the additional
limitations of being limited to simple, routine, repetitive
tasks; simple work-related decisions; cannot perform at a
production rate pace (e. g., assembly line work) but
can perform goal-oriented work (e. g., office
cleaner); can relate to co-workers, supervisors, and the
general public on a superficial basis; and can adapt to a
work situation (Tr. 26). The ALJ concluded that although the
claimant had no past relevant work to return to, she was
nevertheless not disabled because she could perform the
requirements of representative occupations such as motel
housekeeper, conveyor line bakery worker, and inspector
packer (Tr. 32).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to
properly evaluate the medical and nonmedical source evidence,
(ii) failing to properly conduct determinations at steps four
and five, (iii) failing to properly assess her credibility,
and (iv) essentially reopening her prior claim for benefits.
The claimant also asserts that evidence submitted to the
Appeals Council should be considered. Because the ALJ does
appear to have ignored probative evidence regarding the
claimant's impairments, the decision of the Commissioner
should be reversed.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine, chronic low
back pain, obesity, depression severe with psychotic
features, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Tr. 24).
The relevant medical evidence demonstrates that in 2006 the
claimant was in a motor vehicle accident and suffered
subluxations in her spine, resulting in a diagnosis of lumbar
strain (Tr. 476, 588). On ...