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Hall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 21, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         Before the Court are the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Gary M. Purcell [Doc. 19], and Plaintiff's Objections to the Report and Recommendation [Doc. 20]. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court reviews the Report and Recommendation de novo in light of Plaintiff's Objections.

         First, some short background. Plaintiff is challenging the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny his application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (SSA). The Commissioner based his decision on the opinion of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who found that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the SSA because, while Plaintiff has some limitations, there are jobs he can still perform in the national economy. In arriving at that conclusion, the ALJ made several findings:

. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 16, 2013-his amended alleged onset date.
. Plaintiff did have some severe impairments: peripheral vascular disease (PVD), asthma/emphysema, plantar swelling, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, and status post remote left inguinal hernia repair.
. Though these impairments, taken in isolation or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, they did result in a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at a light exertional level with some physical limitations:
[Plaintiff can] lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently[, ] sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday[, and can] occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.

Transcript, Doc. 11, at 15.

. Given these impairments, Plaintiff could not perform the jobs he had performed in the past. He could, however, perform other jobs that exist in the national economy, including price marker, cashier clerk II, and fruit distributor.

         After the ALJ issued his decision, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, thus making final the decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009). On review, the Magistrate Judge considered-and rejected-Plaintiffs arguments that (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of Plaintiff s treating physician, Dr. Samant, and (2) that the ALJ erred in discounting Plaintiffs credibility. See Doc. 20, at 5, 20.

         Some of Plaintiff's arguments in his Objection are old. Some are new. Some overlap. For clarity's sake, the Court will address them in three parts. The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Andrade v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 985 F.2d 1045, 1047 (10th Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” Fowler v. Bowen, 876 F.2d 1451, 1453 (10th Cir. 1989), and “requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion.” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). While the Court will “consider whether the ALJ followed the specific rules of law that must be followed in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases . . . [the Court] will not reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment for the Commissioner's.” Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005).

         Plaintiff first complains that the ALJ focused exclusively on the reports from Dr. Winkler, who physically examined Plaintiff several times, rather than the reports and opinion of Dr. Samant. Further-and perhaps conceding that the ALJ did not entirely ignore Dr. Samant's findings-Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to consider all the findings of Dr. Samant.

         The ALJ's decision, though, does not bear out Plaintiff's claims. For one, the ALJ did not rely exclusively on the report from Dr. Winkler; instead the ALJ specifically acknowledged several of Dr. Samant's findings, including that Plaintiff had paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and PVD in September 2014. Doc. 11, at 16. Moreover, the ALJ concurred with Dr. Samant's findings that Plaintiff could only lift and carry 10 pounds frequently, id. at 15, and that Plaintiff had plantar swelling. Id. at 16. He also considered the ALJ's observations that Plaintiff could only stand and walk twenty minutes per day and that Plaintiff could not walk 200 feet without stopping to rest. Id. at 17. To say that the ALJ ignored Dr. Samant's findings does not account for the ALJ's entire decision.

         Granted, the Court did not regurgitate every bit of evidence recorded from the numerous visits Plaintiff made to Dr. Samant. Yet that alone does not invalidate the reasoning of the ALJ and the Magistrate Judge. “The record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, but an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996). And the record demonstrates just that. The ALJ stated in his decision that he had taken “careful consideration of the entire record.” Doc. 11, at 15. “The Court take[s] the ALJ at his word, unless shown ...

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