United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
BRENDA M. WHITE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Brenda M. White 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 is REVERSED and the
case REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings.
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.
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
claimant was thirty-eight years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 43). She has a high school
equivalent education and has worked as an institutional cook,
breakfast cook, and pizza deliverer (Tr. 44, 76-77). The
claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since
October 25, 2013, due to depression, anxiety, degenerative
disc disease, bone spurs, diabetes, high blood pressure,
carpal tunnel syndrome, and problems with her shoulder and
arm (Tr. 247, 305).
November 20, 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 (Tr. 247-56). Her applications
were denied. ALJ Michael Harris conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated February 19, 2016 (Tr. 21-34). The
Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written
opinion represents the Commissioners' final decision for
purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§
of the Administrative Law Judge
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 as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a)
except she could only occasionally climb ramps or stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and could never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds (Tr. 26). The ALJ further
found that the claimant could perform simple tasks with
routine supervision, relate to supervisors and peers on a
superficial work basis, and adapt to a work situation, but
could not relate to the general public (Tr. 26). 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 she could perform in the national economy,
e.g., small parts assembler, lens inserter, and cuff
folder (Tr. 32-34).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly:
(i) account for her carpal tunnel syndrome in formulating the
RFC, and (ii) evaluate her subjective statements. The Court
agrees, and the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed
and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.
found the claimant had the severe impairments of obesity,
degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, affective
disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance addiction disorder
and the nonsevere impairment of hypertension (Tr. 23-24). The
relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant regularly
consulted with providers at the Chickasaw Nation Medical
Center between January 2012 and October 2015 (Tr. 377-576,
820-68, 1013-40, 1307-16, 1345-56). Her relevant diagnoses
include chronic low back pain, major depressive disorder,
anxiety disorder, ...