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Dennis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 25, 2017

LADONNA R. DENNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Ladonna R. Dennis requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she 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 h[er] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] 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.[2]

         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: (1) whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘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). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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 on March 13, 1961, and was fifty-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 32). She completed the twelfth grade, and has worked as a cake decorator, cashier/stocker, and cook/supervisor (Tr. 45, 269). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since December 1, 2011 due to back problems, depression, and pain in both hands and the left wrist (Tr. 268).

         Procedural History

         On May 3, 2012, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ John Belcher conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated December 19, 2014 (Tr. 14-22). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's decision represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i. e., she could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently with consistent pushing/pulling limitations, stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six to eight hours in an eight-hour workday, and that she could frequently finger, handle, and feel bilaterally (Tr. 19). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant could return to her past relevant work as either a cake decorator or cashier/stocker (Tr. 21).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly assess her RFC, specifically as to her mental impairments, and (ii) failing to properly consider the treatment records related to her mental impairments, particularly in relation to his findings regarding the severity of her mental impairments. Neither of these contentions have merit, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and bilateral wrist carpal tunnel syndrome, we all as the nonsevere impairments of bilateral hand pain, obese/overweight, and anxiety (Tr. 16). The relevant medical evidence reflects that the claimant was treated for anxiety ...


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