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Gibbs v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 20, 2019

CLETUS W. GIBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Cletus W. Gibbs (the "Claimant") requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is REVERSED and the case REMANDED to Defendant 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: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). The term "substantial evidence" has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require "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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991) . Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the "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 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         Claimant was 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant obtained his GED. Claimant has worked in the past as a janitor supervisor, transport driver, and warehouse worker. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning September 9, 2009 due to limitations resulting from mental impairments, including depression, anxiety, and anger issues, back problems, and numbness in the hands and feet.

         Procedural History

         On January 26, 2011, Claimant protectively filed for protectively filed for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On January 9, 2013, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Luke Liter conducted an administrative hearing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On February 1, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied review on May 15, 2014. Claimant appealed and the decision was reversed by this Court and remanded for further proceedings.

         While the appeal was pending, Claimant filed a second application for benefits on May 27, 2014. Claimant was determined by the agency to be disabled beginning April 1, 2014. Therefore, the remand, and consequently this appeal, only considered whether Claimant was disabled for the closed period from September 9, 2009 through March 31, 2014.

         The ALJ conducted a further administrative hearing on April 19, 2016 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On May 31, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision as to the closed period. The Appeals Council denied review on February 14, 2017. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four and step five of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, he did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform his past relevant work from September 9, 2009 through November 13, 2012 and could perform the representative jobs from November 13, 2012 through March 31, 2014.

         Errors ...


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