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Davis 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 Mark Alfred Davis requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act. He appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision should be 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 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-nine years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 39). He completed his GED and has worked as an electrician apprentice (Tr. 19, 284). The claimant alleges inability to work since April 18, 2013 due to problems with his back and legs, anxiety, and depression (Tr. 13, 283).

         Procedural History

         On March 31, 2014, 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. His applications were denied. ALJ B.D. Crutchfield conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 22, 2016 (Tr. 10-21). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, i. e., he could lift/carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently, stand/walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, except that he was unable to climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds, and he could only occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Additionally, she determined that he could perform simple tasks with routine supervision, relate to supervisors and peers on a superficial work basis, and adapt to a work situation, but that he could not relate to the general public (Tr. 15). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., semi-conductor bonder, machine feeder, and film touch-up inspector (Tr. 19-20).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) improperly weighing the medical evidence, namely, treating physician opinions, and (ii) failing to identify jobs that account for all of his impairments. Because the ALJ does appear to have ignored probative evidence regarding the claimant's impairments, the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, status post fusion at ¶ 4-L5 and L5-S1, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 13). The medical evidence relevant to this appeal reveals that in 2008, the claimant underwent a laminectomy, discectomy, and fusion at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1, performed by Dr. Tyler Boone (Tr. 360, 375). Following that surgery, the claimant was released with permanent restrictions to sedentary work (Tr. 399). On August 6, 2012, Dr. Boone saw the claimant again and assessed him with postlaminectomy syndrome and chronic back pain with a history of previous fusion (Tr. 399). Noting that the claimant was in pain management, Dr. Boone stated that there would “probably be hours every day, days every week, and weeks in every month that he would not be ...

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