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Scott v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2018

KATRINA L. SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Katrina L. Scott (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the determination of this Court that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and REMANDED 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 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. . .” 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: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “substantiality of the 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

         Claimant was 46 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant obtained a GED and attended two years of college, obtaining an associates degree in criminal justice. Claimant has worked in the past as a clerical worker/bookkeeper. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning April 1, 2007 due to limitations resulting from back problems, numbness in the legs, and bladder problems.

         Procedural History

         On October 15, 2009, Claimant protectively filed for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision on March 3, 2011. The Appeals Council denied review but this Court reversed and remanded the decision on appeal.

         On September 16, 2013, the ALJ conducted a second administrative hearing. On January 14, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision on April 14, 2014. By Order and Judgment entered November 17, 2015, this Court again reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

         After a supplemental hearing on remand, ALJ Doug Gabbard, II entered a third unfavorable decision on September 1, 2016. Claimant did not file written exceptions with the Appeals Council so that body did not assume jurisdiction over the case. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work.

         Error ...


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