United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
SUZANNE R. GOSSETT, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Suzanne R. Gossett 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 discussed
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 the 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-five years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 55). She completed twelfth grade,
and has worked as a receptionist, janitor, teacher aide,
carhop, and child care attendant (Tr. 38, 284). The claimant
alleges inability to work since January 20, 2013, due to
chronic pain syndrome, disorders of sacrum, atypical facial
pain, lumbar radiculopathy, occipital neuralgia, other nerve
root and plexus disorders, depression, Meniere's disease,
and partial loss of hearing (Tr. 283).
November 25, 2014, 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, on April 10, 2012. The
applications were denied. ALJ John W. Belcher conducted an
administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was
not disabled in a written opinion dated April 6, 2017 (Tr.
23-39). 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. §§
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 sedentary work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), i.
e., she could lift/carry/push/pull ten pounds
occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently, stand/walk
two hours each in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six
hours in an eight-hour workday. However, he imposed the
additional limitations of being unable to climb ladders and
scaffolds, and only occasionally able to climb stairs,
balance, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. Finally, he
found that she could perform simple, routine and some complex
tasks, allowing for semi-skilled work, and that she was able
to perform work requiring superficial contact with
co-workers, supervisors, and the general public (Tr. 30-31).
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, i. e.,
document specialist, addresser, and touch-up screener (Tr.
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to
properly evaluate the consultative examination opinion of Dr.
Denise LeGrand, (ii) failing to properly evaluate the
treating physician opinion of Dr. Michele Bucholtz, and (iii)
failing to properly assess her subjective complaints. The
undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's
first two contentions, and the decision of the Commissioner
should be reversed.
determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of
obesity, degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine status
post fusion in 2010, degenerative disc disease in the
cervical spine, chronic pain secondary to back and neck,
depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, as well as the
nonsevere impairments of hypertension and dyslipidemia (Tr.
The relevant medical evidence demonstrates that the claimant
underwent a lumbar spine fusion in 2010, and a few months
later underwent instrumentation removal and a revision
right-sided partial hemilaminectomy with partial medial
facetectomy and foraminotomy (Tr. 473-479). The claimant
continued to complain of back pain, and was diagnosed ...