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Reece v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 28, 2019

COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Homer Lee Reece requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner should be REVERSED and the case 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[.]” 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 forty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 27). He completed tenth grade, and has worked as a construction cleaner, general labor, short order cook, parts stocker, and window assembler (Tr. 20, 240). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since December 16, 2013, due to his right hand missing fingers, a low IQ, and mental health problems (Tr. 239).

         Procedural History

         On December 16, 2013 the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. His application was denied. ALJ Deborah L. Rose conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 25, 2016 (Tr. 13-22). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made her decision at steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. She found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), i. e., he could lift/carry twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally, stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, and that he could not operate hand controls with the right upper extremity; and could only occasionally handle, finger, and feel with the right hand due to the loss of his right ring and pinky fingers and the fixed position of the middle finger. Additionally, she determined that the claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, make simple work-related decisions, and have superficial work-related interaction with coworkers and supervisors, as well as occasional interaction with the public (Tr. 17). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant could return to her past relevant work as a general laborer or parts stocker, and alternatively, that there was other work he could perform, i. e., janitorial, warehouse worker, office cleaning, and production inspector (Tr. 20-21). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant was not disabled (Tr. 22).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to consider the entire record and all his impairments, including his hypertension, obesity, and mental impairments, and (ii) further failed to consider the combined effect of his impairments, as well as his moderate impairment related to concentration, persistence, or pace. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees that the ALJ failed to account for all the claimant's impairments, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of partial loss of right hand due to remote amputation, bipolar disorder, and history of substance abuse in remission since June 2014, as well as the nonsevere impairments of hypertension, obesity, and hepatitis C (Tr. 15). As relevant to this appeal, the medical evidence reflects that the claimant's blood pressure ranged as follow: 172/112 on February 21, 2014; 132/92 on July 21, 2014; 133/88 on October 21, 2014; 136/100 on February 6, 2015; 179/108 on April 30, 2015; 143/92 on May 15, 2015; and 144/98 on September 24, 2015 (Tr. 372, 412, 420, 479, 482, 507, 537). Treatment notes regarding the claimant's hypertension on September 24, 2015 state that the claimant's hypertension started in 2013 and was “currently getting worse, ” noting the claimant had risk factors including depression, family history, hypertension, gout or CAD, obesity, and smoking (Tr. 534). During this same time frame, the claimant's weight ranged from 304 to 336 pounds (Tr. 420, 479, 482, 507, 537). On a May 15, 2015 visit with Dr. Anna Miller, she noted that she discussed the claimant's obesity and the option ...

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