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Schrimsher 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 Debra Gail Schrimsher 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 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. 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-six years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 137). She completed up to one year of college, and has worked as a contract technician, receptionist, and billing and collection representative (Tr. 121, 324). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since April 11, 2014, due to fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, degenerative disc disorder, degenerative joint disorder, bone spurs, arthritis, major depression, and possible seizures (Tr. 323).

         Procedural History

         On July 1, 2014, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied. ALJ B.D. Crutchfield held an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 12, 2016 (Tr. 108-123). 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. § 404.981.

         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 less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), i. e., she could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and sit/stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday. Additionally, she determined that the claimant was unlimited in the ability to climb ramps or stairs, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel, but that she could only frequently balance, and had limited right handling for gross manipulations only, with the unlimited ability to finger and feel. Further, she determined the claimant needed to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. Finally, she found that the claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; relate to coworkers and supervisors superficially; and adapt to a work environment; but that she could not tolerate active involvement with the general public (Tr. 115). The ALJ thus concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform, i. e., assembler, cleaner/polisher, and bakery worker (Tr. 122).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly evaluate a treating physician opinion, and (ii) failing to properly account for her severe impairments, including her mental impairments, in formulating the RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's second contention related to assessing the claimant's RFC, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, status post ankle reconstruction, right gamekeeper's thumb status post surgeries, fibromyalgia, and bipolar disorder, as well as the nonsevere impairments of possible absence seizure disorder, history of anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, arthritis, status post left elbow surgery, borderline personality disorder, and history of alcohol abuse (Tr. 111-112). The relevant medical evidence related to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that she had a number of inpatient mental health admissions. She was admitted to Vista Health in Fort Smith, Arkansas from February 27, 2012 through March 2, 2012 with severe depression and suicidal thinking. On admission, her Global Assessment of Functioning ...

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