United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
KATHY L. MCCLAIN, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Kathy L. McClain 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 should be 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. Sec'y of Health
& Human Svcs., 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-six years old at the time of the most
recent administrative hearing (Tr. 599). She has an
eighth-grade education, and has worked as a hospital cleaner,
apartment manager, and janitor (Tr. 600, 614). The claimant
alleges she has been unable to work since November 15, 2011,
due to restless leg syndrome, diverticulitis, and depression
January 19, 2012, 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. 120-32). Her applications
were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated January 2, 2014 (Tr. 13-24). The
Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed in No.
CIV-15-308-SPS and remanded with instructions to properly
consider the opinion of treating physician Dr.
Nielson. On remand, ALJ James Bentley held a second
administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not
disabled through January 2, 2014, in a written opinion dated
June 23, 2017 (Tr. 573-87). The claimant did not file written
exceptions with the Appeals Council, so the ALJ's June
2017 opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for
purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§
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 a limited range of
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b),
416.967(b), i. e., she could lift/carry/push/pull
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
sit/stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday with a
sit-stand option; frequently, but not constantly, reach,
handle, and finger with her right upper extremity; and
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl; but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
(Tr. 577-78). The ALJ further found that the claimant could
understand, remember, and apply simple and detailed
instructions; concentrate and persist for extended periods in
order to complete simple and detailed work tasks with routine
supervision; and maintain superficial relationships with
coworkers, supervisors, and the general public (Tr. 578). The
ALJ 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., cashier II, small products
assembler, and conveyor line bakery worker (Tr. 585-86).
claimant contends that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate
her subjective statements. More specifically, she contends
that the ALJ improperly relied on her failure to seek medical
and psychological treatment to discount her subjective
statements. The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in evaluating
the claimant's subjective symptoms, and the decision of
the Commissioner must therefore be reversed and the case
remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.
found that the claimant's mild degenerative changes of
the cervical spine and right shoulder, disorders of the
lumbar spine, restless leg syndrome, right upper extremity
fracture with surgical repair, hypertension, diverticulosis,
major depressive disorder, and alcohol abuse were severe
impairments (Tr. 576). The relevant medical evidence related
to the claimant's physical impairments reveals that prior
to March 2013, her treatment largely consisted of emergent
care for acute problems including chest pain, knee pain,
flank and abdominal pain, and a rib fracture (Tr. 357-58,