United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Janelle Pearl Taylor 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 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. 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 forty-seven years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 270, 301). Her education includes
up to two years of college, and she has worked as a
door-to-door salesperson, home health aide, kitchen aide, and
kennel attendant (Tr. 253, 482). The claimant alleges she has
been unable to work since January 1, 2013, due to major
depressive disorder, chronic fatigue, microvalve prolapse,
high blood pressure, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic pain,
anxiety about being in public, sleep apnea, chronic back and
knee pain, obesity, tachycardia, and thyroid problems (Tr.
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, on November 3, 2015. Her applications were denied.
ALJ Luke Liter held an administrative hearing and determined
that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated
July 14, 2017 (Tr. 242-255). The Appeals Council denied
review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this
appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
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 light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i.
e., she could lift/carry/push/pull twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit for six hours in
an eight-hour workday, and stand/walk up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday, with the additional limitations of only
occasionally climbing ramps/stairs, balancing, kneeling,
stooping, crouching, and crawling, as well as avoiding
climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds. He further found that she
could not tolerate exposure to hazards such as unprotected
heights or dangerous moving machinery. He imposed the
psychologically-based limitations that the claimant could
understand, remember, and carry out simple and some complex
tasks, but that tasks should be repetitive and routine, and
that she should avoid contact with the public while contact
with supervisors and co-workers should be superficial,
defined as brief and cursory (Tr. 246-247). The ALJ then
concluded that the claimant was not disabled because there
was work she could perform, e. g., housekeeper,
electronics assembler, and packer inspector (Tr. 253-255).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate her mental impairments, specifically with regard to
the opinions of consultative examiner Dr. Theresa Horton, and
counselor Marva Heissmann, LPC, LMFT, RN, and that her mental
impairments preclude her from maintaining a job or performing
substantial gainful activity. The undersigned Magistrate
Judge agrees that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
evidence of record, and the decision of the Commissioner
should therefore be reversed.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of
unspecified personality disorder, depressive disorder,
obesity, and chronic pain (Tr. 244). The medical evidence
related to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that
she received counseling for a number of years and was
hospitalized on at least two occasions for suicidal ideation.
Treatment records from the claimant's counselor indicate
she was largely treated at Redbird Smith Health Center by
Nurse Practitioner Melissa Horn and Licensed Professional
Counselor Marva Heinemann. Treatment notes with Nurse
Practitioner Horn indicate the claimant was homeless in March
2013, and that she went in crying and “out of
control” (Tr. 631). Ms. Heinemann accepted her for
therapy that month, noting that the claimant had signs and