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Parker v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2019

COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Ashley Ranae Parker 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.

         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 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.[1]

         Section 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 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         The claimant was thirty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 52). She has a ninth grade education and no past relevant work (Tr. 70, 207). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since January 1, 2000, due to paranoid schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 184, 207).

         Procedural History

         On July 18, 2013, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 184-90). Her application was denied. ALJ Larry Shepherd conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 26, 2016 (Tr. 29-39). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion represents the Commissioners' final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations: (i) simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; (ii) relate to supervisors and coworkers on a superficial work basis; (iii) respond to usual work situations; and (iv) no contact with the general public (Tr. 33). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant had no past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform in the national economy, e. g., hand packager, machine attendant, and laundry worker (Tr. 37-38).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate the opinion of treating physician Dr. Wellie Adlaon. The Court agrees, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found the claimant's major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder were severe impairments, but that her seizure disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and low blood pressure were not medically determinable (Tr. 31). The relevant medical evidence reveals that Dr. Lawren Meredith treated the claimant for generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorder not otherwise specified on two occasions in July 2012 (Tr. 312-15). Thereafter, Dr. Ursula Bowling completed a psychological consultative examination of the claimant on December 20, 2013 (Tr. 341-45). Dr. Bowling noted that the claimant was very labile, had a depressed affect, appeared to have low energy, and evidenced high anxiety during the interview (Tr. 341-43). On examination, Dr. Bowling found the claimant had very poor recall and memory; poor concentration, attention, judgement and insight; and average intelligence (Tr. 343). She made a provisional diagnosis of major depression with psychotic features, rule out psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, schizophrenia, or malingering (Tr. 343). Dr. Bowling ...

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