United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
VICKIE L. GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Vickie L. Graham requests judicial review of a
denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She
appeals the Commissioner's decision 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 is hereby REVERSED
and the case is 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[.]” 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.
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 April 26, 1972, and was forty-three
years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 35).
She has a high school education and vocational training in
medical coding and terminology, and has worked as a billing
clerk, claims examiner, and patient scheduler (Tr. 49, 232).
The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since August
20, 2013, due to a fractured spine, problems with her hands,
and pain in her back, neck, and legs (Tr. 37, 231).
December 17, 2013, the claimant applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied.
ALJ Lantz McClain held an administrative hearing and
determined the claimant was not disabled in a written
decision dated December 7, 2015 (Tr. 13-22). 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. §
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), except that
she should avoid work above shoulder level and could
frequently use her hands for repetitive tasks such as
keyboarding (Tr. 16). The ALJ then concluded that the
claimant was not disabled because she could return to her
past relevant work as a claims examiner and patient
scheduler, and alternatively because there was work she could
perform in the national economy, i. e., food and
beverage order clerk, and electronics worker (Tr. 21-22).
claimant contends that the ALJ failed to properly account for
her non-severe mental impairments in formulating her RFC.
More specifically, she asserts that the ALJ ignored probative
evidence related to her mental impairments, summarized the
mental health evidence without analysis, and did not consider
the combined effects of all of her impairments at step four.
She further claims that such errors negatively impacted the
ALJ's analysis of her ability to perform the mental
demands of her past relevant work as well as his hypothetical
question to the VE. The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in
his analysis of the claimant's non-severe impairments and
his decision is not supported by substantial evidence.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
status post injury to cervical spine with surgery, history of
knee pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as the
non-severe impairments of depression and anxiety (Tr. 15).
The record reveals the claimant was involved in a motor
vehicle accident on August 21, 2013, which caused a laminar
fracture at ¶ 6, and a ligamentous injury resulting in
instability at ¶ 6, C7 (Tr. 491-97). On August 23, 2013,
she underwent a fusion at ¶ 5 to T1 with pedicle screw
instrumentation (Tr. 491-97). The medical evidence related to
the claimant's non- severe mental impairments reveals
that her primary care physician, Dr. Timothy Sanford, treated
her for depression with anxiety from August 2012 through
February 2014 (Tr. 539-71, 606-17). On examination, Dr.
Sanford generally found the claimant had an appropriate mood
and affect, and good insight and judgment, however, he did
note her mood and ...