Hash v. Social Security Administration
OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Kimberly E. West - This case is reversed and the matter remanded to Defendant for further proceedings. (adw, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
MARTHA S. HASH,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social
Case No. CIV-16-187-KEW
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Martha S. Hash (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.
appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and
asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly
Commissioner’s decision should be and is REVERSED and the case is
REMANDED to Defendant 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
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
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
first, whether the decision was supported by
Step one requires the claimant to establish that he is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1510, 416.910. Step two requires that the claimant establish that
he has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limit his ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1521, 416.921. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (step one) or if the claimant’s impairment is not medically
severe (step two), disability benefits are denied. At step three, the
claimant’s impairment is compared with certain impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. A claimant suffering from a listed
impairment or impairments “medically equivalent” to a listed impairment
is determined to be disabled without further inquiry.
If not, the
evaluation proceeds to step four, where claimant must establish that he
does not retain the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his
past relevant work.
If the claimant’s step four burden is met, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish at step five that work
exists in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant
– taking into account his age, education, work experience, and RFC – can
perform. Disability benefits are denied if the Commissioner shows that
the impairment which precluded the performance of past relevant work does
not preclude alternative work. See generally, Williams v. Bowen, 844
F.2d 748, 750-51 (10th Cir. 1988).
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.”
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
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 was 60 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision.
Claimant completed her high school education.
Claimant has worked
in the past as a stocker and cashier and medical clerk.
alleges an inability to work beginning September 10, 2011 due to
limitations resulting from back pain from an injury, knee problems,
diabetes which causes her feet and legs to go numb, and hand
On January 2, 2013, Claimant protectively filed for disability
insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the
Social Security Act.
On October 26, 2012, Claimant filed an
application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI
(42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act.
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Deborah L. Rose by video with
Claimant appearing in Muskogee, Oklahoma and the ALJ presiding from
Tulsa, Oklahoma. By decision dated August 26, 2014, the ALJ denied
Claimant’s requests for benefits.
review on March 11, 2015.
The Appeals Council denied
As a result, the decision of the ALJ
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Decision of the Administrative Law Judge
The ALJ made her decision at step four of the sequential
evaluation. She determined that while Claimant suffered from severe
impairments, she did not meet a listing and retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work.
also determined Claimant could perform a reduced range of sedentary
Errors Alleged for Review
Claimant’s ability to engage in her past work at step four.
Step Four Assessment
In her decision, the ALJ found Claimant suffered from the
degenerative disc disease and compression fracture of the thoracic
spine, and as of July 28, 2012, a fractured right patella.
The ALJ determined Claimant retained the RFC to perform a
reduced range of sedentary work, in that she could lift/carry up to
ten pounds, stand/walk for two hours out of an eight hour workday,
and sit for about six hours out of an eight hour workday.
could only occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
She could frequently handle and finger.
After consultation with a vocational expert, the ALJ found
Claimant could perform her past relevant work as a cashier II which
was performed at the light level of exertion and unskilled and
sedentary levels of exertion and semi-skilled.
result, the ALJ determined Claimant was not disabled from September
10, 2011 through the date of the decision.
Claimant contends the ALJ failed to properly consider the
required phases at step four.
The ALJ’s findings as to Claimant’s
ability to perform at an exertional level are, to say the least,
In the RFC, the ALJ restricts Claimant to a “reduced
range of sedentary work.”
At step four, the ALJ begins
by stating, “[t]he claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work as a cashier II . . ., which is performed at the light level
of exertion and unskilled . . . and medical record clerk . . .
which is performed at the light and sedentary levels of exertion
In the discussion of these findings, the ALJ
Within the past 15 years, the claimant performed these
jobs at the substantial gainful activity level, and did
them lone enough to learn the jobs. In comparing the
claimant’s residual functional capacity with the physical
and mental demands of this work, I find that the claimant
is able to perform it as actually performed.
vocational expert testified that claimant could return to
her past relevant work, as the residual functional
capacity for the light level of exertion is within the
parameters of the cashier II and medical record clerk.
perform the medical records clerk job as she performed it.
“[R]esidual functional capacity consists of those activities
that a claimant can still perform on a regular and continuing basis
despite his or her physical limitations.”
White v. Barnhart, 287
F.3d 903, 906 n. 2 (10th Cir. 2001).
A residual functional
capacity assessment “must include a narrative discussion describing
how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical
facts ... and nonmedical evidence.” Soc. Sec. R. 96–8p.
must also discuss the individual's ability to perform sustained
work activities in an ordinary work setting on a “regular and
continuing basis” and describe the maximum amount of work related
activity the individual can perform based on evidence contained in
the case record. Id.
The ALJ must “explain how any material
inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in the case record
requirement in the regulations for a direct correspondence between
an RFC finding and a specific medical opinion on the functional
capacity in question.”
Chapo v. Astrue, 682 F.3d 1285, 1288 (10th
The ALJ’s decision employs three exertional levels with quite
At varying instances, the ALJ finds
Claimant is restricted to less than sedentary work, may perform
required work to be performed at the sedentary exertional level.
There are times when a decision or a finding within a decision is
so fraught with confusion and error that the true intent of the ALJ
This decision - particularly the most crucial
findings in the RFC - represents such a situation.
On remand, the
ALJ shall clearly set forth her findings regarding Claimant’s
ability to perform basic work activities in the RFC at a single,
support in the medical record.
Claimant makes additional arguments concerning the deficiency
in the ALJ’s decision at step four.
However, until the RFC is
properly determined, the step four findings cannot not supported by
On remand, the ALJ shall re-evaluate her
step four findings in conjunction with a reconstituted RFC.
substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were not
applied. Therefore, this Court finds, in accordance with the fourth
sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the ruling of the Commissioner of
Social Security Administration should be and is
REVERSED and the
matter REMANDED to Defendant for further proceedings.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 19th day of September, 2017.
KIMBERLY E. WEST
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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