United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Susan Elaine Counts 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 she was not disabled. As discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and 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 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 on November 21, 1959, and was fifty-five
years old at the time of the most recent administrative
hearing (Tr. 75). She has a high school education, and has
worked as a shipping and receiving clerk, sales clerk, and
insurance policy clerk (Tr. 88-89, 288). The claimant alleges
she has been unable to work since August 3, 2010, due to
problems with her knees, back pain, neck pain, depression,
anxiety, panic attacks, and high blood pressure (Tr. 241,
claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, on February 6, 2012 (241-42). Her application was
denied. ALJ Richard J. Kallsnick conducted an administrative
hearing and found that the claimant was not disabled in a
written opinion dated April 17, 2013 (Tr. 112-24). The
Appeals Council remanded the case on June 13, 2014 (Tr.
131-33). On remand, ALJ Richard J. Kallsnick conducted
another administrative hearing and again found that the
claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated January
22, 2015 (Tr. 11-20). The Appeals Council denied review, so
the ALJ's January 2015 written opinion is the final
decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
of the Administrative Law Judge
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 sedentary
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with
occasional stooping and climbing ramps, and never crawling,
kneeling, and climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds (Tr. 16).
Additionally, the ALJ found the claimant had the
non-exertional limitations of performing simple and some
complex tasks, dealing with the public occasionally, and
relating to coworkers on a superficial work basis (Tr. 16).
The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled
because she could return to her past relevant work as an
insurance clerk, or alternatively, because there was work she
could perform in the national economy, i. e., data
entry clerk, receptionist, and document preparer (Tr. 18-19).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly:
(i) account for the opinion of consultative examiner Beth
Jeffries, Ph.D., (ii) account for her obesity and neck
impairment, and (iii) analyze her credibility. The Court
agrees with the claimant's first contention, and the
Commissioner's decision should therefore be reversed and
remanded for further proceedings.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
history of left knee arthroscopy with abrasion chondroplasty
of the patella, osteoarthritis of the left knee, bilateral
L4-L5 spinal fusion, depression, and panic disorder without
agoraphobia (Tr. 13). The relevant medical evidence in the
record indicates that the claimant fell at work in May 2010
and sustained injuries to her knees and back (Tr. 409-13). As
to her left knee, she underwent an arthroscopy with abrasion
chondroplasty of the patella and partial synovectomies in
February 2011; steroid injections in August 2012; hyaluronic
injections in December 2012; and a left knee replacement in
July 2013 (Tr. 355-57, 610-11, 617-21, 623-24, 634-35,
663-64, 672-73). As to her right knee, she had steroid
injections in August 2012, and ...