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Tedrick 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 Arthur F. Tedrick 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 October 29, 1948, and was sixty-five years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 54). He completed three semesters of college, and has worked as a construction worker I and front-end loader (Tr. 21, 284). The claimant alleges inability to work since November 1, 2005 due to osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, heart problems, and high blood pressure (Tr. 284).

         Procedural History

         On December 16, 2010, 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 Osly F. Deramus conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April 13, 2012 (Tr. 100-106), but the Appeals Council vacated ALJ Deramus's opinion and remanded the case back to him with instructions on remand to properly consider the claimant's 100% service-connected disability rating with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) (Tr. 112-113). On remand, ALJ Doug Gabbard, II, conducted a second administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated June 27, 2014 (Tr. 10-24). The Appeals Council then denied review, so ALJ Gabbard's 2014 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 medium unskilled work (work which needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time), but stated that the claimant must only occasionally be required to understand, remember, and complete detailed instructions because he has marked limitations in this area. Furthermore, the ALJ found that the claimant's supervision must be simple, direct, and concrete; that he must work in a setting where he can frequently work alone where interpersonal contact with supervisors and coworkers must be incidental to the work performed (such as assembly work); there must be no contact with the general public; and he must avoid even moderate exposures to dust, fumes, gases, odors, and other pulmonary irritants and humidity and wetness (Tr. 17). 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., linen room attendant (Tr. 21-22).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ improperly discounted the VA disability rating. The Court finds this contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         On remand, ALJ Gabbard determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, back and neck pain secondary to degenerative disc disease, affective disorder, and substance addiction disorder (alcohol, reportedly in remission), as well as the nonsevere impairments of hypertension, ischemia of the left eye, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, multiple dental caries requiring complete mandible and maxillary dentures, right leg muscles gone, previous fracture of the hip in the 70s, legs and feet numb, cerebrovascular disease, tobacco abuse, obesity, GERD, erectile dysfunction, sleep disorder, and surgical correction for testicular swelling (Tr. 14-15). The medical evidence relevant to this appeal is largely treatment notes from various Veteran's Administration treatment facilities. The notes prior to the date last insured of June 30, 2006 reveal that alcohol abuse and PTSD were on the claimant's “Problem List” at the VA (Tr. 377-378). There are, however, no mental health treatment records related to that time (or thereafter), nor is there a record that the claimant was prescribed mental health medications. The notes largely reflect that the claimant had vision problems related to high blood pressure in October 2005, and that he was treated ...

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