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Beason v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 28, 2018

KIMBERLEY B. BEASON, et al., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, et al., Defendant.



         The claimant Kimberley B. Beason 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 discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and the case REMANDED to the ALJ 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 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.[1]

         Section 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 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         The claimant was born on February 4, 1975, and was forty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 299, 301). She has a high school education, and has worked as a dipper, folding machine operator, and carton packaging machine operator (Tr. 30, 87). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since an amended onset date of February 1, 2012, due to bipolar disorder, depression, high blood pressure, posttraumatic stress disorder, anger control problems, and headaches (Tr. 326, 375, 403).

         Procedural History

         On June 17, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and she applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 on July 31, 2013 (Tr. 299-306). Her applications were denied. ALJ Christopher Hunt conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated October 25, 2015 (Tr. 20-32). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with occasional climbing ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, but never climbing ropes, ladders, and scaffolds, or working around extreme heat like ovens or furnaces (Tr. 24-25). The ALJ found that the claimant was limited to simple, repetitive, and routine tasks with occasional contact with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public (Tr. 24-25). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that she could perform in the national economy, e. g., document preparer, addresser, and parimutuel ticket checker (Tr. 41-43).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) account for her marked limitation in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (ii) resolve a conflict between the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”); and (iii) make sufficient findings as to whether work existed in significant numbers. The Court agrees with the claimant's first and second contentions, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and obesity, but that her hypertension, hypothyroidism, and headaches were non-severe (Tr. 22). The relevant medical records as to the claimant's mental impairments reveal that her primary care physician, Dr. ...

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