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Scott v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

CHERYL SCOTT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Cheryl Scott brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying Plaintiff’s applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10, hereinafter “R. ___”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner’s decision and remands for further proceedings.

         Procedural History and Administrative Decision

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on June 26, 2015, alleging disability beginning December 18, 2014. R. 48, 185-86. The SSA denied her application initially and on reconsideration. R. 84-109. At Plaintiff’s request, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 21, 2016, after which the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 1, 2017. R. 45-64, 68-81.

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 18, 2014, the alleged disability-onset date. R. 50. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, obesity, and diabetes mellitus onset September 2014. R. 50-54. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff’s mental impairments of anxiety and depression were nonsevere in nature. R. 54-56. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 57.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all her medically determinable impairments. R. 58-59. The ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except with nonexertional limitations. [Plaintiff] can: lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; walk/stand up to 6 of 8 hours with normal breaks; and sit for up to 6 of 8 hours. [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps/stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can do no more than frequent handling bilaterally.

R. 58.

         At step four, the ALJ considered the hearing testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) and found that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a vocational instructor. R. 60. The ALJ therefore determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 60; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f), .1560(b)(3). Plaintiff’s request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. R. 1-6; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). “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.” Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ’s findings, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008).


         In this action, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate a medical opinion regarding Plaintiff’s mental limitations and that this failure resulted in an RFC determination and a step-four finding that are not supported by substantial evidence. See Pl.’s Br. (Doc. No. 13) at 3-9. The Court agrees. A. The Relevant Record In August 2015, Plaintiff complained to her physician of stress, along with her ongoing physical complaints related to fibromyalgia and diabetes mellitus, and was prescribed an antidepressant medication. R. 335-37.

         On October 15, 2015, Plaintiff was examined by Stephanie Crall, PhD. Dr. Crall then issued a consultative examination report (“CE Report”). R. 495-98 (Ex. 6F). In this report, Dr. Crall noted multiple normal findings but also diagnosed Plaintiff with Major Depressive ...

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