United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
ROSA M. PEREZ, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Rosa M. Perez 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 the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining she 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 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 July 12, 1988, and was twenty-six years
old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 218, 222).
She has a high school education, and has worked as a hostess
and waitress (Tr. 79). The claimant alleges that she has been
unable to work since September 15, 2009, due to depression,
social anxiety, and ulcerative colitis (Tr. 258).
January 17, 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. 218-27). Her applications
were denied. ALJ J. Frederick Gatzke conducted an
administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not
disabled in a written opinion dated November 21, 2014 (Tr.
24-37). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's
written opinion is 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 step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found the claimant retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as
defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c)
except that she was limited to no more than incidental
contact with the general public, and detailed, but not
complex, work instructions (Tr. 29). The ALJ concluded that
although the claimant could not return to her past relevant
work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was
work in the national economy that she could perform, i.
e., janitor, laundry worker I, and hand packager (Tr.
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
analyze: (i) the opinions of state agency psychologists James
Sturgis, Ph.D., and Laura Lochner, Ph.D, and (ii) the
opinions of state agency physicians Dr. C.K. Lee and Dr.
Laurence Ligon. The Court agrees that the ALJ did not
properly assess the opinions of Dr. Sturgis and Dr. Lochner.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
ulcerative colitis, paranoid type schizophrenia, subchronic
state; bipolar I disorder, single manic episode, severe,
without psychotic features; depression; and anxiety (Tr. 26).
He determined that the claimant's headaches, foot/ankle
pain, right knee pain, hip pain, and mild left convexity
scoliosis were non-severe (Tr. 27). The medical records as to
the claimant's physical impairments reveal that she
presented to the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma
Emergency Department (“MCSO”) for
gastrointestinal issues, including abdominal pain, bloody
stool, nausea, and/or vomiting, on numerous occasions between
June 2008 and January 2012 (Tr. 406-834). At each emergent
care visit, ...