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Sowers v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 30, 2017

GORDON R. SOWERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gordon R. Sowers (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 AFFIRMED.

         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 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. . .” 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 born on July 31, 1961 and was 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Claimant completed his education halfway through the ninth grade. Claimant has worked in the past as a caulker at a waterproofing business and a construction worker. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning December 1, 2012 due to limitations resulting from hepatitis C, lower back problems, high blood pressure, rectal bleeding, and migraine headaches.

         Procedural History

         On January 9, 2013, Claimant protectively filed for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On March 5, 2014, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James Stewart in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He issued an unfavorable decision on April 25, 2014. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on September 25, 2015. 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 step 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 light work with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in providing an assessment of Claimant's deficits in adaptive functioning which was not supported by substantial evidence.

         Consideration of a Listing

         In his decision, the ALJ found Claimant suffered from the severe impairments of lower back pain, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 27). The ALJ determined Claimant retained the RFC to perform light work. He found that, due to severe mental impairments, Claimant was limited to unskilled work consisting of simple and routine tasks with routine supervision that require only that he be able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions with no contact with the general public and only occasional contact with co-workers. Contact with co-workers must be superficial. The ALJ further determined that ...


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