United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
ANITA K. CHILDERS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Anita K. Childers 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
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 fifty-six years old at the time of the most
recent administrative hearing (Tr. 242). She has a high
school equivalent education and has worked as a
housekeeper/cleaner, trailer component assembler, and cage
cashier (Tr. 38, 40, 53). The claimant alleges that she has
been unable to work since December 16, 2012, due to
headaches, neck surgery, pain and numbness in her shoulder
and arm, and depression (Tr. 242, 262).
17, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434 (Tr. 242-43). Her application was
denied. ALJ Truett M. Honeycutt conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated August 29, 2016 (Tr.
18-29). 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 his decision at step four 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. § 404.1567(b), i. e., she could
lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
stand and walk two hours continuously for a total of six
hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for two hours
continuously for a total of two hours in an eight-hour
workday; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch; and
occasionally crawl, reach overhead bilaterally, and climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds (Tr. 23). The ALJ then concluded
that the claimant was not disabled because she could return
to her past relevant work as a casino cage cashier as
performed in the national economy (Tr. 27-28).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly:
(i) account for her headaches, neck pain, torticollis,
obesity, and mental impairments when formulating the RFC;
(ii) provide a narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports the RFC; (iii) determine the mental demands
of her past relevant work; and (iv) evaluate her subjective
statements. The Court agrees that the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate the claimant's nonsevere mental impairments, 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 cervical
disk disease status post remote fusion in 2002, class 1
obesity (body mass index of 32 at 63 inches tall and 183
pounds), and history of tension headaches, but that her
depression and anxiety were nonsevere (Tr. 20-21). The
relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant
established care at Caddo Family Medical Clinic on February
17, 2014 (Tr. 488-89). At this initial appointment, she
reported severe headaches that occurred three or four times
per week (Tr. 488). Nurse practitioner Emily Love diagnosed
the claimant with tension headache and prescribed medication
(Tr. 488-89). The claimant presented to Dr. Lee on April 23,
2014, and reported consistent headaches, noting that she was
keeping her three grandchildren and was under a lot of stress
(Tr. 482-884). Dr. Lee diagnosed the claimant with tension
headaches (Tr. 484). At a follow-up appointment with Dr. Lee
on May 14, 2014, the claimant reported that she stopped
taking her medication due to side effects and reported
continued headaches a few times per week (Tr. 478-81). Dr.
Lee diagnosed the claimant with generalized anxiety disorder
and situational anxiety and prescribed an antidepressant (Tr.
480). After this initial diagnosis, ...