United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
CARROLL C. MULLENS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Carroll C. Mullens 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 is 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 2, 1969, and was forty-five years old
at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 179, 342). He
has a high school education, and has worked as a delivery
route driver, welder, and car dealer (Tr. 184, 363). The
claimant alleges he has been unable to work since an amended
onset date of August 21, 2012, due to diabetes, high blood
pressure, arthritis, and neuropathy (Tr. 69, 183).
August 21, 2012, 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 (Tr. 40, 124). His applications
were denied. ALJ J. Frederick Gatzke conducted an
administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was
not disabled in a written opinion dated August 4, 2014 (Tr.
40-52). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's
written opinion represents the Commissioners' final
decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481
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 sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a),
except that he required the intermittent opportunity to
alternate sitting and standing approximately every forty-five
minutes in addition to lunch and normal breaks (Tr. 43). 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 in the national
economy, e. g., touch-up screener, document
preparer, and semiconductor bonder (Tr. 50-52).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate the opinions of treating physicians Dr. Vivek
Khetpal and Dr. Nadia Ahktar. The Court agrees, and the
decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and
the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.
found the claimant's diabetes, diabetic neuropathy,
hypertension, obesity, and cervical degenerative changes were
severe impairments (Tr. 42). The relevant medical evidence
reveals that the claimant established care with Dr. Khetpal
at the Heart and Medical Center in February 2013 (Tr. 271).
Initial treatment consisted of a stress test and carotid
ultrasound, both of which were normal (Tr. 264-67). At an
appointment on March 7, 2013, the claimant reported severe
neuropathy that prevented him from working (Tr. 260-63). Dr.
Khetpal's physical examination was normal and he
diagnosed the claimant with diabetes and labile hypertension
(Tr. 260-63). At a follow-up appointment on November 25,
2013, the claimant reported intermittent, moderate back pain
and radicular leg pain (Tr. 284-86). Dr. Khetpal noted the
claimant had a slowed gait and decreased range of motion in
his back and left hip (Tr. 284-86). Similar examination
findings were made in December 2013 and January 2014 (Tr.
274-83). The claimant transferred his care to Dr. Akhtar
(also at the Heart and Medical Center) in March ...