United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Kenneth Scott Brown 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 the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth
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 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. 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
claimant was born March 8, 1985, and was thirty-one years old
at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 37). He
completed high school and some college, and has worked as a
track vehicle repairer, machinist apprentice, and fry cook
(Tr. 25, 43, 196). The claimant alleges that he has been
unable to work since an amended alleged onset date of October
23, 2014, due to reactive airway disease, right knee
patellofemoral syndrome, left knee patellofemoral syndrome,
right ankle strain, left ankle strain, degenerative disc
disease lumbar spine, migraine headaches, post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), radiculopathy left lower extremity,
and bilateral hearing loss (Tr. 195).
December 13, 2015, the claimant protectively applied for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. His application
was denied. ALJ B. D. Crutchfield conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated August 12, 2016 (Tr. 18-27). The
Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written
opinion became the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §
of the Administrative Law Judge
made her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
She found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform less than the full range of light
work, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), meaning that
he must avoid concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, odors and
gases; can perform simple and some complex tasks (defined at
the administrative hearing as semi-skilled) with routine
supervision; he can adapt to a work environment and relate to
others on a superficial work basis, but that he should limit
public contact to occasional (Tr. 23). The ALJ concluded
that, although the claimant could not return to his past
relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there
was work he could perform, e. g., mail room clerk,
assembler, and sorter (Tr. 25-26).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to
properly account for the claimant's 100% disability
rating from the Veteran's Administration (VA); (ii)
failing to account for evidence that conflicted with the
mental RFC findings in the opinion, including
mischaracterizing opinion evidence; and (iii) failing to
account for his nonsevere impairments in assessing his RFC.
The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds the ALJ did
make a number of errors at step four, and the decision of the
Commissioner should therefore be reversed.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
asthma, anxiety, and cannabis dependence, as well as the
nonsevere impairments of reactive airway disease, right and
left knee patellofemoral syndrome, right and left ankle
strain, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
migraine headaches, PTSD, radiculopathy left lower extremity,
and bilateral hearing loss (Tr. 21). At step two, she stated
that she gave little weight to the VA disability rating,
noting that such a finding is not binding on the Social
Security Administration (Tr. 21). In February 2015, the
claimant's combined disability rating through the VA was
100%, including PTSD, reactive airway disease, migraine
headaches, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with
intervertebral disc disease, right and left knee and ankle
impairments, and radiculopathy (Tr. 165-190, 444). Records
from the VA indicate the claimant had concentration problems
following his discharge from the Army described as
cognitive-linguistic deficits characterized by decreased
auditory attending skills, working memory for orally
presented information, psychomotor/information processing
speed and divided attention, explicit learning and delayed
recall of verbal information, visuoconstruction skills, and
planning and psychomotor speed (Tr. 268, 304-306). He further
reported problems adjusting to ...