United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
JEANNIE L. NOBLE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Jeannie L. Noble 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 set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and
the case is 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 the 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 fifty-two years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 28, 178). She completed twelfth
grade, and has worked as a tag and title clerk, a carpet
layer helper, and a production assembler (Tr. 19, 239). The
claimant alleges inability to work since her application date
of September 1, 2015, due to rheumatoid arthritis,
osteoporosis, back problems, anxiety, depression, neck
problems, memory problems, a learning disability, and
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) (Tr.
September 1, 2015, the claimant applied for supplemental
security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. The application
was denied. ALJ Doug Gabbard, II, conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated December 22, 2016 (Tr. 11-21). 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.
of the Administrative Law Judge
ALJ made his decision at steps four and five of the
sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that she could
not climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; she could only frequently
stoop, kneel, and crouch; and she was unlimited in the
ability to balance and crawl. He further found that she was
limited to unskilled work which was simple, repetitive, and
routine; supervision must be simple, direct, and concrete;
interpersonal contact with supervisors and co-workers must be
on a superficial work basis; she should only have occasional
workplace changes; she must have normal regular work breaks;
and she should have no contact with the general public (Tr.
15). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant could return to
her past relevant work as a production assembler (Tr. 19).
Additionally, he found that she could perform the jobs of
housekeeping cleaner and bakery assistant worker (Tr. 20).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) improperly
rejecting a treating physician opinion and two consultative
examiners' opinions, and (ii) failing to properly account
for her rheumatoid arthritis in formulating her RFC. Because
the ALJ does appear to have ignored probative evidence
regarding the claimant's impairments, the decision of the
Commissioner should be reversed.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
history of rheumatoid arthritis/osteoarthritis, affective
disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorder (Tr.
13). The medical evidence relevant to the claimant's
mental health treatment demonstrates that the claimant sought
treatment for her mental health at Carl Albert Community
Mental Health Center in August 2014, reporting depression,
anxiety, and loss of concentration (Tr. 398). However, in
December 2014, a treatment note from Little Axe Health Center
in Norman, Oklahoma indicates that the claimant reported
being hooked on painkillers but refused psych treatment or
drug abuse counseling, and the provider was suspicious that
it was a drug- seeking encounter (Tr. 441). The claimant also
received treatment from Dr. Peter Alan Rao in Tulsa,
Oklahoma, and he prescribed her pain medications beginning
August 20, 2015 (Tr. 527-548, 561-572). Dr. Rao's monthly
treatment notes indicate ...