United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
TERESA V. N., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
F. JAYNE, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Teresa N. seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act (“Act”). In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have
consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.
For 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
Plaintiff, then a 52-year-old female, protectively applied
for Title XVI supplemental security income benefits on
October 17, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of October
17, 2014. R. 208. Plaintiff claimed that she was unable to
work due to depression, being suicidal, migraines, skin
lesions, sleeping problems, inability to be around people,
headaches, inability to sit still, and being very nervous. R.
267. Plaintiff’s claim for benefits was denied
initially on March 17, 2015, and on reconsideration on May
20, 2015. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and the ALJ
conducted the hearing on December 7, 2016. The ALJ issued a
decision on January 4, 2017, denying benefits and finding
Plaintiff not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review,
and Plaintiff appealed.
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the application date of October 17, 2014. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: possible delusional disorder/Morgellon’s
disease. 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. After
evaluating the record evidence, the ALJ concluded as follows
with respect to Plaintiff’s residual functioning
[C]laimant has the [RFC] to perform less than the full range
of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b).
Specifically the claimant is able to lift and/or carry 20
pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, and sit, stand,
and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks.
Additionally, the claimant can perform
superficial and incidental work related interaction with
co-workers and supervisors, but not the public, and she is
limited to simple and routine tasks such as those in
R. 15 (emphasis added). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was
unable to return to her past relevant work as a collection
clerk. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), however, the ALJ found at step five that
Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to
other work that exits in significant numbers in the national
economy. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not
raises four issues on appeal: (1) the ALJ erred in her
treatment of the psychiatric medical opinions of consultative
examiners Dr. Dennis Rawlings and Dr. Brian Snider, and the
ALJ’s mental RFC findings are therefore not supported
by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ’s consistency
findings are not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the
ALJ failed to follow clear vocational testimony in favor of
Plaintiff; and (4) the ALJ’s appointment was invalid
under the U.S. Constitution, rendering the decision invalid.
The Court finds the ALJ erred by wholly ignoring Dr.
Rawlings’ medical opinion and that the error is not
harmless. The Court does not reach the other
first proposition of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ
committed error by: (1) improperly ignoring the medical
opinion of Dr. Rawlings; and (2) improperly rejecting the
medical opinion of Dr. Snider to the extent he found more
severe mental limitations than those adopted by the ALJ.
Mental Health Opinions by Dr. Rawlings (2011) and ...