United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
MICHAEL R. HARRISON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant Michael R. Harrison 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 is 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 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.
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 most
recent administrative hearing (Tr. 124, 549). He has a high
school education and has worked as supervisor/laborer (Tr.
25). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work
since August 20, 2012, due to chronic sinusitis, allergic
rhinitis, hearing problems, sleep disorder, and ankle and
foot problems (Tr. 623).
August 27, 2012, the claimant applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 549-55). His application
was denied. ALJ Daniel Curran conducted an administrative
hearing and a supplemental hearing and determined that the
claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated June 8,
2016 (Tr. 181-91). The Appeals Council remanded the case on
July 25, 2016 (Tr. 198-201). On remand, ALJ Daniel Curran
conducted an administrative hearing and a supplemental
hearing and again determined that the claimant was not
disabled in a written opinion dated December 1, 2017 (Tr.
15-27). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ’s
December 2017 written opinion represents the
Commissioners’ final decision for purposes of this
appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
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 a limited range of
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), in an
indoors, environmentally controlled setting (Tr. 23). Due to
psychologically-based limitations, the ALJ found the claimant
could understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions; make judgments that were commensurate with the
functions of unskilled work, i. e., simple
work-related decisions; respond appropriately to supervision,
co-workers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes
in a routine work setting; but could not do work that
required joint decision-making or teamwork, and could not
have more than occasional contact with members of the public
(Tr. 23). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant
could not return to his past relevant work, he was
nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could
perform in the national economy, e. g., merchandise
marker, office helper, and pencil sorter (Tr. 25-26).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i)
properly analyze the consultative opinions of Dr. Raymond
Fuchs and Dr. Michael Stephens, and (ii) resolve a conflict
between the vocational expert’s (“VE”)
testimony and the Dictionary of Occupation Titles
(“DOT”). The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in
evaluating Dr. Stephens’ opinion; therefore the
decision of the Commissioner must be reversed and the case
remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.
found the claimant had the severe impairments of major
depressive disorder, history of alcohol dependence, insomnia,
hyperlipidemia, chronic sinusitis, joint pain, and pes planus
(Tr. 17-18). The relevant medical evidence as to the
claimant’s mental impairments reveals that the claimant
presented to nurse practitioner Sandra Bollier on May 21,
2010, and reported problems with anger, irritability, low
mood, and insomnia after his home sustained significant
damage from a tornado earlier that week (Tr. 1200). Ms.
Bollier diagnosed the claimant with stress, insomnia, and
depressive symptoms (Tr. 1203). At a follow-up appointment ...