United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
F. JAYNE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Kelly Andrell B. seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of
the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge.
reasons explained below, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision denying benefits and remands for
further proceedings. Any appeal of this decision will be
directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Standard of Review
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported
by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence
is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Glass v.
Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994)). A
decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a
mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Hamlin
v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004)
(quotations omitted). The Court must “meticulously
examine the record as a whole, including anything that may
undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261 (citing Washington v.
Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). The Court
may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if
the Court might have reached a different conclusion, the
Commissioner's decision stands so long as it is supported
by substantial evidence. See White v. Barnhart, 287
F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
Procedural History and the ALJ's Decision
then a 46-year-old male, applied for Title II benefits on
August 11, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of May 25,
2016. R. 208. Plaintiff claimed that he was unable to work
due to disorders including major depression, post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, uncontrolled tremors, and
chronic body pain. R. 227. Plaintiff's claim for benefits
was denied initially on November 29, 2016, and on
reconsideration on February 10, 2017. R. 131-135; 137-143.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), and the ALJ conducted the
hearing on August 9, 2017. R. 145-146, 45-81. The ALJ issued
a decision on September 8, 2017, denying benefits and finding
Plaintiff not disabled because he was able to perform other
work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
R. 28-44. The Appeals Council denied review, and Plaintiff
appealed. R. 1-7; ECF No. 2.
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of
the Act through December 31, 2019, and that he had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date of May 25, 2016. R. 33. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cervical spondylosis,
and carpal tunnel syndrome in his right upper extremity.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments of such
severity to result in listing-level impairments. R. 34-35.
respect to objective psychological evidence in the record,
ALJ noted Plaintiff's complaints of “memory
loss” and “PTSD” during a physical
consultative examination performed October 6, 2016 by Jerry
First, M.D. R. 37. On October 10, 2016, Plaintiff
reported to Timothy Doty, Psy.D., for a psychological
consultative examination. R. 37, 416-424. Plaintiff explained
to Dr. Doty that he was unable to work “because of
problems related to social situations, anxiety, and
post-traumatic reactions to deployment in war
settings.” R. 37. The ALJ then recited Dr. Doty's
visit impression summary verbatim:
Hi [sic] ability to engage in work-related mental
activities appears moderate. His ability to
understand work-related mental tasks appears intact, although
there seems to be a neurocognitive affect, perhaps based on
depression and anxiety that is preventing him from
functioning fully in terms of understanding. His
memory performance was moderate as briefly assessed
on a mini mental status exam. His ability to sustain
concentration in a real-world situation appears poor.
His ability to persist in work-related tasks appears
poor. Mr. Burks's mental status, at the time of this ce
[sic], suggests that he is cognitively capable of managing
disability benefits if he were to receive such. The veracity
and reliability of the information gathered for the purpose
of this CE does not seem to include intentional or misleading
over/underreporting. Mr. Burks may benefit from additional
evaluation/assessment to more fully understand the disparity
between seemingly above average intellectual ability and
uncommonly low performance on a mini mental status exam. He
seemed to experience a great deal of difficulty with nominal
cognitive tasks. Perhaps an increase to the intensity of
psychotherapy and mental health assistance is necessary.
Otherwise, it would be helpful to rule out concerns related
to poor neurocognitive performance.
R. 37, 418 (emphasis in original). The ALJ then stated that
Dr. Doty's “[d]iagnosis notes unspecified
depression and anxiety disorder by history; unspecified
neurocognitive disorder; occupational problems; other history
of psychological trauma; and a Global Assessment of
Functioning (GAF) score of 51-60, moderate symptoms (Exhibit
6F).” The ALJ gave “this evidence”
significant weight, noting Dr. Doty opined that Plaintiff
“is capable of managing his own funds.” R. 37.
then discussed the treating source opinion of John Laurent,
M.D. dated July 24, 2017. The ALJ recounted each of the
categories Dr. Laurent listed as “marked, ” and
the single “moderate” category before giving the
opinion “little weight.” R. 37-38. R. 38. The ALJ
gave little weight to a 100% service connected disability
rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, noting that
the two agencies' disability determination processes are
“fundamentally different.” R. 38-39. Finally, the
ALJ gave little weight to the state agency psychological
consultants' mental findings, because “the above
residual functional capacity is more consistent with the
totality of the evidence.” Id.
evaluating the record evidence, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a reduced range of light
work as follows:
[T]he claimant is able to lift, carry, push or pull up to 10
pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; able to sit for
up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; able to stand and/or walk
up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; able to frequently reach
overhead; able to frequently handle or finger with the right,
dominant upper extremity; able to occasionally climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; able to perform simple, routine and
repetitive tasks; job should provide regular breaks every 2
hours; able to interact with supervisors as needed to receive
work instructions; able to [sic] in proximity to co-workers;
job should not involve over-the-shoulder type ...