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Beall v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 6, 2019

COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Patricia D. Beall 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and the case is 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 fifty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 42, 162). She completed eighth grade and has no past relevant work (Tr. 58, 185). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since July 1, 2014, due to a nervous place in her arm, liver problems, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and anxiety (Tr. 162, 184).

         Procedural History

          On July 27, 2015, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 27, 162-67). Her application was denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated November 1, 2016 (Tr. 27-36). The Appeals Council denied review, so 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 medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except she was limited to simple tasks with routine supervision, occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors on a superficial work-basis, and no work-related contact with the general public (Tr. 32). The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled because there was work that she could perform in the national economy, e. g., kitchen helper, hospital cleaner, and laundry worker (Tr. 35-36).


          The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) analyze the opinion of treating physician Dr. Theresa Farrow, and (ii) evaluate her subjective statements. The Court agrees with the claimant's first contention, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found the claimant's bipolar I disorder, PTSD, methamphetamine dependence in early remission, borderline personality disorder, hepatitis C, and tobacco dependence were severe impairments, but that her headaches were nonsevere (Tr. 20-22). The medical evidence relevant to this appeal reveals that the claimant presented to Dr. Farrow at Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center (“CACMHC”) on September 6, 2013, and reported problems with depression and anxiety most of her life, but worsening symptoms the previous two or three years as well as increased anger (Tr. 301-03). Dr. Farrow diagnosed the claimant with bipolar disorder, mixed, severe, with psychotic features; ADHD, combined type; PTSD; social phobia; amphetamine dependence in remission; and borderline personality disorder (Tr. 302). The claimant next sought mental health treatment on ...

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