Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Torres v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 18, 2019

PHYLLIS TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The claimant Phyllis Torres 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.

         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 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.[2]

         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 fifty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 41, 235, 239). She completed tenth grade and has worked as a horse tender, material hander, and small products assembler (Tr. 44, 59-60). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since March 30, 2013, due to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, severe headaches, muscle spasms, and neuropathy (Tr. 235, 239, 257).

         Procedural History

         On April 23, 2015, 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 (Tr. 235-44). Her applications were denied. ALJ John W. Belcher conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 1, 2017 (Tr. 12-30). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ’s written opinion represents the Commissioners’ final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. He found the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), with occasional balancing, bending/stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolding (Tr. 16). Due to psychologically-based limitations, the ALJ also found the claimant could perform simple and routine tasks and some complex tasks (allowing for semi-skilled work), in a habituated work setting, with superficial contact with co-workers and supervisors, but no contact with the general public (Tr. 17). The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled because she could return to her past relevant work as a small products assembler, and alternatively because there was other work she could perform in the national economy, e. g., bottling line attendant, conveyor line bakery worker, and poultry processor (Tr. 28-30).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) violating her due process rights in relying on evidence not part of the record, (ii) failing to fully develop the record, (iii) failing to properly evaluate the medical evidence, (iv) failing to assess her RFC by accounting for all her impairments, (v) failing to assess whether her impairments meet the requirements of Appendix 1, Part 404, Subpart P (the “Listings”), (vi) improperly determining that she could return to her past relevant work, and (vii) relying on vocational expert (“VE”) testimony that was not inclusive of all her limitations. The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in determining the claimant could return to her past relevant work and in determining there was other work she could perform.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of hypertension, depression, and anxiety, but that her lumbar spine pain, headaches, and swelling and numbness of her feet and hands were nonsevere (Tr. 14). The relevant medical evidence reveals that primary care providers at Stigler Health and Wellness treated the claimant for anxiety, depression, back pain, neuropathy, and hypertension from December 2014 through October 2016 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.