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Neel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2018

ROY DALE NEEL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Roy Dale Neel requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The claimant appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. As discussed below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's decision 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 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.[1]

         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 on July 11, 1975, and was forty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 36). He completed the tenth grade, and has worked as a car salesman, gambling dealer, and fast food manager (Tr. 48-49, 220). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since October 31, 2013, due to heart problems, obstructive sleep apnea, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, narcolepsy, cataplexy, carotid artery disease, heart stents, and obesity (Tr. 219).

         Procedural History

         The 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 December 20, 2013. His applications were denied. ALJ Richard J. Kallsnick conducted an administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 19, 2015 (Tr. 8-16). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. He found the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i. e., he is able to lift/carry/push/pull no more than twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand/walk for four hours out of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six to eight hours out of an eight-hour workday, all with normal breaks. The ALJ further noted that the claimant has a Tenth Grade education with good ability to read, write, and use numbers, and that he could use his hands for hand controls and feet for foot controls; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; had no limitation in stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; must avoid hazards such as moving machinery and dangerous heights, and should not drive a motor vehicle due to cataplexy. Furthermore, the ALJ determined that the claimant was afflicted with symptomatology from a variety of sources of sufficient severity as to be noticeable to him at all times, but that he would nonetheless be able to remain attentive and responsive in a work setting and could carry out normal work assignments satisfactorily. Finally, the ALJ noted that the claimant's medications did not preclude him from functioning at the light level, as restricted, and that the claimant would remain reasonably alert to perform required functions in the work setting (Tr. 11-12). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant could return to his past relevant work as a car salesperson and card dealer/gambling dealer (Tr. 15).


         The claimant alleges that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly assess the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Newnam; and (ii) failing to properly assess his RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's first contention, and the Commissioner's decision should therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of narcolepsy with cataplexy, carotid artery disease, status post stent implants, and obesity, as well as the nonsevere impairments of obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension (Tr. 11). Relevant medical records reflect that the claimant had a small non-ST elevation myocardial infarction and underwent stenting in June 2010 (Tr. 301). He again reported chest pain and shortness of breath in August 2013 and he underwent further cardiac catheterization, which resulted in a finding that the claimant had mild coronary artery disease, widely patent circumflex and OM2 stent, normal LV function, and that his chest ...

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