United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
RIKKI D. KNIGHT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Rikki D. Knight 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 is REVERSED and the
case REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings.
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 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. 40). She completed high school,
vocational training in nursing, and two years of college and
has worked as a licensed practical nurse and nursing home
administrator (Tr. 47, 64, 213). The claimant alleges that
she has been unable to work since June 21, 2013, due to a
herniated, ruptured, and bulging disc; lumbar disc
compression; diabetes; hypertension; bipolar disorder with
anxiety and panic attacks; psoriatic arthritis; rheumatoid
arthritis; right hip sciatica; psoriasis; and fibromyalgia
(Tr. 39, 212).
December 2014, the claimant applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434 (Tr. 191-94). Her application was
denied. ALJ B.D. Crutchfield conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled
from her alleged onset date of January 21, 2013, through her
date last insured of December 31, 2014, in a written opinion
dated January 13, 2017 (Tr. 15-29). 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 her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
She found the claimant retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), i.
e., she could lift/carry/push/pull twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit, stand, or walk
six hours out of an eight-hour workday with normal breaks;
frequently climb ramps or stairs, balance, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; and occasionally stoop; but could not climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds (Tr. 21). Due to psychologically-based
limitations, the ALJ found the claimant could perform simple
and some complex (defined during the hearing as semi-skilled)
tasks with routine supervision; could relate to supervisors,
co-workers, and the general public on a superficial work-type
basis only; and could adapt to a work setting and some
forewarned changes in a usually stable work setting (Tr. 21).
The ALJ then 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., small product assembler,
poultry processor, and inspector packer (Tr. 27-29).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate the opinion of treating physician Dr. Douglas Brown,
and the Court agrees.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease and affective disorder, but that
her diabetes, hypertension, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid
arthritis, right hip sciatica, psoriasis, and fibromyalgia
were nonsevere (Tr. 18-19). The relevant medical records
reveal that Dr. Nelson Onaro treated the claimant for,
inter alia, anxiety, low back pain, diabetes, and
hypertension, from July 2013 through October 2013 (Tr.
330-45). Dr. Onaro performed one physical examination during
this and it was normal (Tr. 337-38). Dr. Brown then treated
the claimant for, inter alia, low back pain,
anxiety, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia from
November 2013 through October 2016 (Tr. 346-418, 461-571,
660-96). Dr. Brown's physical examinations were
normal through July 2014 (Tr. 346-93, 400-04). Beginning in
September 2014 and continuing through October 2016, Dr. Brown
consistently found moderate pain with range of motion testing
in the claimant's lumbar spine, but the pain was severe
in July 2015 and April 2016 (Tr. 394-99, 405-18, 461-571,
660-96). Additionally, Dr. Brown found tenderness in the
claimant's lumbar spine in September 2014 and muscles
spasms in her lumbar spine in October 2014, November 2014,
and January 2016 (Tr. 398, 408, 413, ...