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White v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 6, 2019

BRENDA M. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The 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.

         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 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).

         Procedural History

         On 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. §§ 404.981, 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 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).

         Review

         The 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.

         The ALJ 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, ...


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