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Hudson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2019

CHARLES HUDSON, JR.,, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration,, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The claimant Charles W. Hudson, Jr. requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining that he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's should be 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 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[.]” 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 fifty years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 1333). He has an eleventh grade education and has worked as an oil field laborer and gas welder (Tr. 1342-43). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since January 22, 2004, due to heart attacks, a head injury, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, congestive heart failure, three brain surgeries, and blocked arteries (Tr. 150).

         Procedural History

         On July 26, 2007, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 131-35). His application was denied. ALJ Osly F. Deramus conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated September 21, 2009 (Tr. 16-26). The Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner in No. CIV-10-363-FHS-SPS and remanded to the ALJ with instructions to properly consider all the medical evidence in the record (Tr. 1136-1148). ALJ Doug Gabbard, II conducted a second administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated December 7, 2012 (Tr. 1075-1094). The Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner in No. CIV-13-181-FHS-SPS and remanded to the ALJ with instructions to properly consider the claimant's GAF score and nonsevere impairments (Tr. 1351-61). ALJ Kim D. Parrish conducted a third administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated July 29, 2016 (Tr. 1298-1320). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's July 29, 2016, opinion is the Commissioner's final decision 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 had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(a) with occasional stooping, kneeling, and crouching and no exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery (Tr. 1310). The ALJ also imposed the psychologically-based limitations of understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors (Tr. 1310). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform in the national economy, i. e., addresser, table worker, and sorter (Tr. 1318-19).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) consider his nonsevere impairments at step four; (ii) evaluate the opinions of treating physician Dr. O'Neill and consultative examiner Dr. Bayne, (iii) consider his Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of fifty, (iv) consider whether he had a justifiable excuse for noncompliance with treatment, and (v) evaluate the materiality of his substance abuse. The Court agrees that the ALJ did not properly consider the claimant's nonsevere impairments at step four, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that, prior to the date last insured of June 30, 2008, the claimant had the severe impairments of a seizure disorder, ischemic heart disease, asthma, and affective disorder, as well as the nonsevere impairments of sleep apnea; high frequency sensorineural hearing loss, left worse than right; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; vertigo; restless leg syndrome; shortness of breath; shaking in his hands; history of abdominal pain status post cholecystitis and H pylori; possible diverticulitis; and amphetamine abuse (Tr. 1301-07). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant began experiencing seizure activity in December 2007 (Tr. 278). On January 9, 2008, Dr. Michael Tribbey, M.D., from The Medical Neurologists, Inc., wrote that on secondary review of an EEG, “there [are] some subtle changes in the left parietal and posterior temporal region of the brain, which suggest an area of previous ...


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