United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER TO GRANT PLAINTIFF'S APPEAL AND
TO REVERSE AND REMAND DECISION OF COMMISSIONER
B. Cohn United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge for decision. Lisa Michelle James
(“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
decision finding of not disabled. As set forth below, the
Court GRANTS Plaintiff's appeal and
REVERSES and REMANDS the
Commissioner's decision in this case.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
receive di sability or supplemental security benefits under
the Social Security Act (“Act”), a claimant bears
the burden to demonstrate an “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
further provides that an individual:
shall be determined to be under a disability 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, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Plaintiff must demonstrate the physical or mental impairment
“by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§
Security regulations implement a five-step sequential process
to evaluate a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748,
750 (10th Cir. 1988) (setting forth the five steps in
detail). “If a determination can be made at any of the
steps that a plaintiff is or is not disabled, evaluation
under a subsequent step is not necessary.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. The claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four. See Wells v.
Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1064 at n.1. (10th Cir. 2013). If
the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner
must show at step five that jobs exist in the national
economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age,
education, and work experience can perform. Id.
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied
the correct legal standards and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. See e.g., 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“court shall review only the
question of conformity with such regulations and the validity
of such regulations”); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. See id.
Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or
considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). The Court's review is based on the record, and
the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a
whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from
the [Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ's”)] findings in order to determine if
the substantiality test has been met.” Id. The
Court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if
the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d
903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this is an appeal from a final
administrative decision by an ALJ dated March 18, 2015
denying Plaintiff Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act. (Tr.
13-23). At the time of that decision, Plaintiff was 57 years
old (Tr. 10, 200), and she possessed a high school level
education. (Tr. 34, 205). According to the ALJ and vocational
expert (“VE”), she also possessed sedentary,
skilled past relevant work as a customer service
representative. (Tr. 22, 47). However, Plaintiff alleges she
has been unable to do this or any other work since December
1, 2011, due to limitations imposed by a combination of
mental and physical impairments, including depression and
anxiety. (Tr. 13, 177-178, 181-186, 200, 204).
ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
appeal, Plaintiff alleges two errors: (1) The ALJ committed
reversible legal error by failing to properly evaluate the
medical opinion evidence; and (2) the ALJ's RFC
assessment, and specifically its lack of any mental
limitations, was not supported by substantial evidence. (Pl.
Br. at 5, Doc. 18).
ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Evidence
in the Record
Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
medical opinions in the record, specifically from the
consultative psychologist, Timothy D. Doty, Psy.D., and the
state agency psychologists, Edith King, Ph.D. and “SKT,
” Ph.D. (Pl. Br. at 6-9). In the decision, the ALJ
reviewed Plaintiff's background before evaluating the
The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of
generalized arthralgia …
The claimant's medically determinable physical
impairments of hypertension, hypothyroidism, moderate
obesity, history of cholecystectomy, and a history of renal
failure, resolved, considered singly and in combination, do
not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant's
ability to perform basic mental and physical work activities
and are therefore non-severe …
The claimant's medically determinable mental impairments
of depression and anxiety, considered singly and in
combination, do not cause more than minimal limitation in the
claimant's ability to perform basic mental ...