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Carter v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

PERRY LEE CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Perry Lee Carter 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 the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and the case REMANDED 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 sixty-four years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 1672, 1850). He completed the twelfth grade and has worked as a heavy equipment operator and dump truck driver (Tr. 30, 209). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since an amended alleged onset date of May 7, 2013, due to diabetes, heart problems, and a bad back (Tr. 1675, 1881).

         Procedural History

         On February 7, 2014, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. His application was denied. ALJ Luke Liter held an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated December 16, 2015 (Tr. 1712-1724). However, the Appeals Council reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for further analysis on June 23, 2017 (Tr. 1731-1732). On remand, ALJ Liter held a second administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 16, 2018 (Tr. 1627-1642). The Appeals Council then 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.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step two of the sequential evaluation. He found that from the claimant's amended onset date of May 7, 2013 to his date last insured of June 30, 2014, the claimant had the medically determinable impairments of obesity, diabetes mellitus, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), and hypertension (Tr. 1630). Finding that none of these impairments significantly limited the claimant's ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months, he found that the claimant did not have a severe impairment then concluded that the claimant was therefore not disabled (Tr. 1630-1642).

         Review

         The claimant challenges the ALJ's step two findings, particularly alleging that the ALJ ignored a treating physician assessment in failing to find that the claimant had no severe impairment. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's contention, and the decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         The relevant medical evidence reflects that the claimant presented to the hospital twice in May 2013, with complaints of palpitations. On May 7, 2013, palpitations and PSVT were resolved, and attributed to the use of over-the-counter supplements (Tr. 2010-2011, 2015). An echocardiogram on May 7, 2013 revealed normal left ventricular size with normal global left ventricular systolic function, as well as left atrial enlargement and Grade 1 diastolic dysfunction (Tr. 2012). Dr. Robert Parris interpreted this as essentially excluding any significant structural heart disease but noting that he may be a candidate for antiarrythmic therapy and a possible ablation (Tr. 2015). On May 13, 2013, the claimant again reported palpitations and was assessed with PSVT and discharged from the ER once he was stable (Tr. 2004). An EKG ...


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