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Eckstein v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 30, 2019

RICHARD LEE ECKSTEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Richard Lee Eckstein (the "Claimant") requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED 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 his physical or mental 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. . ." 42 U.S.C. § 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.[1]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). The term "substantial evidence" has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require "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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the "substantiality of the 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

          Claimant was 59 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and worked in the past as an assistant manager, customer service representative, mortgage personnel, and food quality controller. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning on November 29, 2015, due to limitations resulting from pneumothorax, hernias, arthritis, epilepsy, vision problems, anxiety, and depression.

         Procedural History

         On December 2ƒ 2015, Claimant filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seg.) of the Social Security Act. On March 24, 2016, Claimant protectively filed an application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On February 27, 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (``ALJ") James Linehan conducted a hearing in McAlester, Oklahoma, at which Claimant appeared and testified. On May 4, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. Claimant requested review by the Appeals Council, and on March 6, 2018, it denied review. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 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 determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, he did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity (``RFC") to perform sedentary work, with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error by (1) failing to reach a proper RFC determination with regard to his mental impairments; (2) failing to reach a proper RFC determination with regard to his physical impairments; (3) finding he could perform his past relevant work at step four; and (4) finding he had acquired skills from his past relevant work that would transfer to other occupations at step five.

         Mental ...


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