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Minnick v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 25, 2017

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



         The claimant Ricky Minnick requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby 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[.]” Id. § 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.[2]

         Section 405(g) limits the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to two inquiries: whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is “‘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); see also Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1996). The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). But the Court must review the record as a whole, and “[t]he substantiality of 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

         The claimant was born November 1, 1963, and was fifty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 66, 194). He completed the eighth grade, and has worked as a termite exterminator, janitor, construction laborer, and road roller operator (Tr. 59, 217). The claimant alleges inability to work since October 31, 2011 due to heart problems, high blood pressure, and depression (Tr. 216).

         Procedural History

         On October 16, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. His application was denied. ALJ David W. Engel, conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated September 17, 2014 (Tr. 46-61). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of light and sedentary work, except that he was unable to climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds, and was unable to work in environments where he would be exposed to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery parts. Additionally, the ALJ determined the claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple to moderately detailed instructions in a work-related setting, and he was able to interact with co-workers and supervisors, under routine supervision (Tr. 52). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., production assembler, bottling line attendant, reel assembler, and semi-conductor bonder (Tr. 59-60).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ erred by improperly weighing the medical evidence, namely, a treating physician opinion and a consultative examiner's opinion. The Court finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of coronary artery disease, status post myocardial infarction with stent placement, hypertension, and depression (Tr. 50). The medical evidence relevant to this appeal reveals that the claimant had a heart attack in 2010, and lost his job in 2011. Following his heart attack in 2010, the claimant received follow-up treatment from the Oklahoma Heart Institute. Notes reflect that the claimant was assessed with hyperlipidemia, smoking or tobacco abuse, myocardial infarction - recent anterior, coronary atherosclerosis or native coronary artery, and cardiomyopathy ischemic, and that he was counseled to stop smoking (Tr. 323, 331, 376). Additionally, the claimant's ejection fraction had improved from 35% to 50% between August 30, 2010 and November 29, 2010 (Tr. 344). At a December 5, 2012 appointment, notes reflect that Dr. Raj Chandwaney explained to the claimant that he was not disabled from a cardiac perspective, because ...

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