United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Patricia Ashbrook 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 that 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-four years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 42). She has an associate degree
and has worked as a dishwasher/janitor and counter attendant
(Tr. 44, 65-66). The claimant alleges that she has been
unable to work since an amended onset date of July 6, 2013,
due to a chemical imbalance, high blood pressure, diabetes,
depression, stroke, motor vehicle accident, blockage, head
injury, thyroid problems, and neuropathy (Tr. 39, 249).
February 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. 20, 217-27). Her
applications were denied. ALJ James Linehan conducted an
administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was
not disabled in a written opinion dated August 5, 2016 (Tr.
20-32). 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.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481.
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found that the claimant had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c),
with occasional bending, stooping, crouching, and crawling;
standing and walking off and on occurs for six hours out of
an eight-hour day with sitting occurring intermittently
throughout the rest of the day; frequent pushing, pulling,
and reaching overhead with both arms; and frequent gripping,
grasping, and feeling (Tr. 26). The ALJ also found the
claimant had the following nonexertional limitations: (i)
limited to work with a Specific Vocational Preparation
(“SVP”) level of two or less; (ii) could
understand, remember, and carry out ordinary and/or routine
written or oral instructions or tasks; (iii) could set
realistic goals and make plans independently of others; and
(iv) could interact appropriately with supervisors and
coworkers, but could interact with the public only incidental
to workplace requirements (Tr. 26). The ALJ then concluded
that although the claimant could not return to her past
relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because
there was work she could perform in the national economy,
e. g., laundry worker I and linen room attendant
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to admit
records from a prior decision, specifically treatment notes
dated November 2009 through January 2011 and a 2011
consultative mental status examination, (ii) failing to order
additional consultative examinations, (iii) failing to find
her disabled under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the
“Grids”), (iv) failing to include all of her
exertional and nonexertional limitations in the RFC, (v)
failing to perform a function-by-function assessment of the
RFC, (vi) failing to account for her mental impairments,
(vii) failing to properly consider her subjective statements,
and (viii) finding she could perform the jobs of laundry
worker I and linen room attendant. Because the ALJ failed to
provide a narrative discussion describing how the evidence
supports the RFC at step four, the decision of the
Commissioner must be reversed and the case remanded to the
ALJ for further proceedings.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of
diabetes, arthralgias, obesity in combination, depressive
disorder, and anxiety disorder, but that her hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, and trigger finger were nonsevere (Tr. 23).
The relevant medical record reveals that the claimant
established care at Pushmataha Family Medical Center
(“PFMC”) on August 30, 2012, and reported that
she had been off her diabetes medications for approximately a
year, had a fasting blood glucose level of 269, and had
frequent urination, intense thirst, neck pain, dizziness, and
fatigue for the past week (Tr. 345-49). Nurse practitioner
Gerald Harper found no abnormalities on physical exam, but
upon recording the claimant's history of head injury, he
indicated that no fine or gross motor function was lost,
however mental delay was apparent (Tr. 346). Mr. Harper
diagnosed the claimant with diabetes mellitus, hypothyroid,
pre-syncope, and hypertension (Tr. 346). By December 2012,
the claimant was doing well and had no complaints (Tr. 354).
On March 12, 2013, a physical examination revealed a left
carotid bruit that the claimant declined to evaluate further
due to the cost and how well she was doing, and Dr. Ellis
noted she seemed to understand well enough to make a proper
decision (Tr. 357). At a follow-up appointment on June 12,
2013, Dr. Ellis noted the claimant's diabetes was very
nicely controlled, and that she was alert, oriented, and
pleasant, but seemed to have either stoic personality or
simple thought processes (Tr. 362). The claimant was doing
well and had no complaints in March 2014, and a depression
screening was negative ...