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Hall 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 Victrina Hall 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 discussed 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 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. Sec'y of Health & Human Svcs., 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 twenty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 31). She completed the eleventh grade, and has no past relevant work (Tr. 20, 188). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since March 1, 2014, due to ruptured globe in the left eye (no left eye), as well as 60% vision loss in the right eye (Tr. 187).

         Procedural History

         On April 7, 2014, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her application was denied. ALJ John W. Belcher conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated March 15, 2016 (Tr. 14-21). The Appeals Council denied review; thus, the ALJ's written opinion is 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 his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but that she could not climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolding due to visual impairment; would need to avoid hazardous or fast machinery, unprotected heights, and driving; would be unable to perform tasks involving stereo vision, depth perception, and peripheral vision (Tr. 16-17). The ALJ thus concluded that although the claimant had no past relevant work to return to, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform, e. g., bakery racker, agricultural produce sorter, and office helper (Tr. 20).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly assess whether her impairments meet the requirements of Appendix 1, Part 404, Subpart P (“the Listings”), (ii) failing to properly assess her RFC by accounting for all her impairments, and (iii) improperly determining that there was work she could perform. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's first contention, and recommends that the case be reversed.

         The ALJ found the claimant's left eye blindness and right eye reduction in visual efficiency were severe impairments (Tr. 16). The relevant medical records reveal that the claimant suffered injuries to her face as a result of domestic violence on March 1, 2014 (Tr. 274). The injuries included a left globe rupture requiring enucleation, as well as right temporal hemianopsia (Tr. 297). ...

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