United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Jaclyn Dawn Brown 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-six years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 146). She has a college education
and has worked as a program aide, customer service
representative, nursery school attendant, and cashier/checker
(Tr. 165, 55). The claimant alleges that she has been unable
to work since May 1, 2013, due to neuropathy, diabetes, bone
pain, three partial toe amputations on her left foot,
recurrent wounds on her left foot, depression, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, and reshaped bones in her feet
(Tr. 146, 164).
January 13, 2015, the claimant applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 146-47). Her application
was denied. ALJ Deirdre O. Dexter conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated May 13, 2016 (Tr. 13-26). The Appeals
Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion
represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes
of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
of the Administrative Law Judge
made her decision at steps four and five of the sequential
evaluation. She found that the claimant had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except she
could lift, carry, push or pull up to five pounds frequently
and ten pounds occasionally; could stand and/or walk up to
two hours in an eight-hour work day; could occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl;
could never use left foot controls or climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; and required the option to use a cane for
ambulating (Tr. 18-19). The ALJ then concluded that the
claimant was not disabled because she could return to her
past relevant work as a customer service representative, and
alternatively because there was work she could perform in the
national economy, i. e., food and beverage order
clerk, new account investigator, and addresser (Tr. 24-26).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly:
(i) determine whether her peripheral neuropathy met or
equaled Listing 11.14, (ii) determine whether her skin
infections met or equaled Listing 8.04, and (iii) account for
her peripheral neuropathy in formulating the RFC. The Court
agrees that the ALJ erred in formulating the RFC, 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,
diabetes mellitus, gastrointestinal disorder, degenerative
disc disease, chronic infections of skin or mucous membranes,
amputation, and a spine disorder; the nonsevere impairments
of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, vitamin D deficiency,
anxiety disorder, and affective disorder; and that her carpal
tunnel syndrome was not medically determinable (Tr. 15-18).
The relevant medical evidence reveals that on November 7,
2013, the claimant underwent a distal amputation of the first
and second digits on her left foot due to an osteomyelitis
infection in both digits (Tr. 422-23). On April 8, 2014, the
claimant underwent a partial third toe amputation on her left
foot due to a diabetic foot infection with osteomyelitis (Tr.
1168-69). Beginning in October 2014 and continuing through
May 2015, the claimant was treated for an ulcer on the stump
of her left hallux (Tr. 736-48, 752-836, 850-60, 1257-60,
1270-86, 1295-1300, 1309-17). Throughout this period, the
claimant's treating physicians repeatedly noted that the
claimant was noncompliant with treatment, and Dr. Jon
Humphers specifically attributed her failure to heal directly
to her failure to follow prescribed treatment (Tr. 741). On
May 26, 2015, Dr. Humphers referred the claimant back to her
primary care provider for further care as needed due to her
lack of compliance with care and failure to keep appointments
(Tr. 860). The claimant next sought wound care for her left
foot on December 7, 2015, and ...