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Coleman 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 Brian Lee Coleman 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 he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby 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 thirty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 45). He has a high school education and has worked as a carpet cleaner (Tr. 45, 59). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since April 30, 2013, due to schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and depression (Tr. 219).

         Procedural History

         On May 26, 2015, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 10, 190-99). ALJ Larry D. Shepherd conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated October 24, 2016 (Tr. 10-26). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations: (i) understand, remember, and carry out 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. 14). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that he could perform in the national economy, e. g., linen room attendant, machine packager, and hand packager (Tr. 24-25).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate his subjective statements. More specifically, he asserts that the ALJ failed to consider whether he had a valid reason for noncompliance with treatment, and that the ALJ improperly relied on the absence of any limitations from a treating or examining source, improperly relied on his activities of daily living, and did not properly consider the statements from his mother, stepfather, brother and sister. The Court agrees that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the third party statements in the record, and finds further error with respect to the ALJ's analysis of the medical source statements provided by the claimant's case manager. The decision of the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of schizoaffective disorder, ADHD, depression, and rule out borderline intellectual functioning (Tr. 12). The relevant medical records reveal that the claimant was admitted for inpatient mental health care at Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in May 2012, June 2013, and May 2015 due to suicidal ideation (Tr. 396-415). He was stabilized on medication and discharged with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder from all three courses of treatment, as well as malingering in June 2013, and unspecified psychosis in May 2015 (Tr. 438-59). The claimant did not follow up with ...

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