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Woods v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

April 18, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          FRANK H. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Tommy Jack Woods, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).


         Plaintiff was 38 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and nearly 44 on the date of the ALJ's denial decision. He has a high school education and formerly worked as a foundry worker and forklift operator. He claims to have been unable to work since June 1, 2009 as a result of depression, bipolar disorder, polysubstance dependence in sustained partial remission, organic brain injury, as well as back, hand, knee, shoulder and leg pain.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of light work with some environmental and postural limitations and the ability to change positions from time to time. Taking note of his depression, anxiety, bipolar, and history of substance abuse, and intending to limit stress and contact, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is restricted to simple, repetitive, and routine work. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff should have limited contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors. Contact with the public should be brief, cursory, and incidental. If work is on an assembly line, he should have enough space between him and co-workers that he does not have to socially interact. He is able to attend employee meetings, shift meetings, and meetings of that nature, but should no be an integral member of a team that will participate in goal setting and process planning, etc. [Dkt. 24].

         Although Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with these limitations. The case was thus decided at step five of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff had only a moderate limitation in social functioning and that the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence because the RFC does not fully incorporate the limitations found by the consultative examiner to whose opinions the ALJ gave great weight.

         Analysis Social Functioning

         When there is evidence of a mental impairment that allegedly prevents a claimant from working, the ALJ must follow the procedure for evaluating mental impairments set forth in the regulations and is required to document the application of the procedure, known as the psychiatric review technique (PRT), in the decision. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(e), 416.920a(e), Carpenter v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 1264, 1268 (10th Cir. 2008)(discussing application of the psychiatric review technique by the ALJ), Cruse v. United States Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 49 F.3d 614, 617 (10th Cir. 1995) (same). The procedure for evaluating alleged mental impairments requires the ALJ to consider the effect of the mental impairment on four broad areas of functioning known as the “paragraph B” criteria: activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence or pace; and episodes of decompensation of extended duration. See 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 12.00 (C). The PRT is used to assess mental impairments for purposes of steps two (identifying severe impairments) and three (rating severity for the listings)[2]. See generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a, 416.920a. Many of the mental listings include the PRT ratings in the four areas of functioning contained in the Paragraph B criteria in their requirements.

         In the area of social functioning, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has moderate difficulties. [R. 23]. Plaintiff argues that this area should have been rated “marked” because consultative mental examiner, Melinda Shaver, Psy.D., completed a Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Mental) wherein she rated Plaintiff as having a “marked” limitation in the ability to interact appropriately with supervisors. [R. 352]. According to Plaintiff, the ALJ committed clear error by not citing to Dr. Shaver's report for his finding ...

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