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Anno v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 6, 2019

TRACY L. ANNO, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Tracy Lynn Anno requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner 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 his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 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]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘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). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 126). She completed the twelfth grade, and has worked as a vet tech, finance clerk, and truck driver (Tr. 119, 267). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since June 19, 2015, due to depression, fibromyalgia, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, migraines, and neuropathy (Tr. 266).

         Procedural History

          On July 1, 2015, 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 Christopher Hunt held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated February 21, 2017 (Tr. 107-121). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written decision represents the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

          The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained 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 stand/walk/sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, but she could not climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, although she could frequently climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Additionally, he determined that she could perform simple and some complex tasks and interact on an occasional basis with co-workers, supervisors, and the public (Tr.111). 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., small product assembler, packer/inspector, and plastic product assembler (Tr. 119-120).


          The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) wholly failing to account for numerous medically determinable impairments noted in the record, (ii) failing to properly account for all of her impairments, including her severe impairment of fibromyalgia, in formulating her RFC, and (iii) failing to account for her obesity. The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in his analysis at step four, and finds that his decision must therefore be reversed and remanded for the following reasons.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of dysfunction of major joints, fibromyalgia, obesity, and major depressive disorder (Tr. 109). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant was treated for fibromyalgia as far back as 2012, and treatment notes reflect continued complaints of pain despite medication (Tr. 466, 526, 535). Medical records from July 2, 2015 indicate that the claimant had quit her job due to emotional stress and physical pain, and “active problems” included polycystic ovaries, gout, fibromyalgia, and morbid obesity (Tr. ...

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