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Riddle v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 27, 2017

SARINDA LEE RIDDLE, 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 Sarinda Lee Riddle requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She appeals the Commissioner's decision 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[.]” 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 15, 1969, and was forty-four years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 118, 903). She attended college several years, and has worked as an office manager, show hostess, and shelter monitor (Tr. 921-22). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since September 19, 2003, due to end stage renal disease, arthritis, gastroparesis, erosive esophagitis, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and anemia (Tr. 161).

         Procedural History

         On February 24, 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 Osly F. Deramus conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated September 8, 2009 (Tr. 13-21). The Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner in Case No. CIV-11-83-SPS and remanded the case to the ALJ with instructions to further analyze the claimant's treating physicians' opinions (Tr. 945-57). ALJ Doug Gabbard, II conducted a second administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April 23, 2014 (Tr. 855-71). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's April 2014 opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner 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 steps four and five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a), with occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no balancing; and no overhead reaching (Tr. 861). Additionally, the ALJ found the claimant required the option to alternate sitting and standing every fifteen to thirty minutes throughout the workday without leaving the workstation (Tr. 861). The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled because she could return to her past relevant work as an office manager, and alternatively because there was work she could perform in the national economy, i. e., appointment clerk, telephone solicitor (Tr. 869-71).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) properly evaluate the opinions of treating providers Dr. Kumar, Dr. Stafford, and Mr. Strong; and (ii) properly evaluate her subjective complaints of fatigue and pain. The Court finds the claimant's contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of renal disease, diabetes with neuropathy, obesity, arthritis, and status post arthroscopic bilateral shoulder surgery, but that her hypertension, chest pain, retinopathy, chronic fatigue, anemia, hypothyroidism, obstructive sleep apnea, joint problems, hip and knee problems, elbow pain, back pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease, allergies, skin lesion, dizziness, hyperprolactinemia, and depression were non-severe (Tr. 858). The relevant medical record reveals that that the claimant was hospitalized with chronic renal insufficiency on September 27, 2003, January 2, 2004, and March 12, 2004, and with acute renal failure on June 6, 2004, and August 9, 2004 (Tr. 223-28, 253-54, 267-68, 293-94, 300-01). Dr. Satish Kumar, a nephrologist, consistently monitored the claimant's kidney functioning from October 2003 through October 2012, and after 2004 regularly noted her kidney disease was stable and included no related limitations in his notes (Tr. 487, 496, 504, 513, 524-41, 1266, 1301, 1309, 1404, 1433, 1448, 1459). On November 7, 2005, Dr. Kumar completed a Medical Source Statement (“MSS”) in connection with the claimant's application for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (“TANF”) wherein he opined that the claimant ...


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