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Dehart v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2018

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



         The claimant Bonnie Sue Dehart requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.

         § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that 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[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 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]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: 1) whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘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). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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 December 19, 1956, and was fifty-nine years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 38, 200). She earned her GED, and has previously worked as a nurse aide (Tr. 65, 233). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since June 29, 2014, due to a stroke, severe uncontrollable high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, elevated white blood cell count, and high blood sugar (Tr. 232).

         Procedural History

         On July 7, 2014, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and on July 18, 2014, she applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ James Stewart held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated November 25, 2016 (Tr. 19-32). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written decision represents 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 steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), except that she could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, nor could she crawl or have exposure to unprotected heights, open flames, dangerous machinery/equipment, or other hazardous conditions. Additionally, he determined that she could understand, remember, and carry out simple or intermediate level instructions and perform simple and some tasks of intermediate level difficulty under routine supervision, such that she is capable of doing simple or at most semi-skilled work; that she could relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial basis; and that she could adapt to work situations (Tr. 24). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant was capable of performing her past relevant work as a nurse aide (Tr. 30). Alternatively, the ALJ determined that there was other work in the national and regional economy that she could perform, i. e., laundry worker, hand packager, and industrial sweeper/cleaner (Tr. 32).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly assess her RFC, and (ii) improperly determining that she could return to her past relevant work. As part of the alleged RFC errors, the claimant alleges errors related to failure to account for left-sided weakness and the need for a cane, failure to develop the record with regard to her mental impairments, and failing to account for her subjective complaints. The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds that ...

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