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Patterson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 28, 2017

JERRY L. PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jerry L. Patterson (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is 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. . .” 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.[1]

         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: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “substantiality of the 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

         Claimant was 55 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Claimant completed his education through the ninth grade. Claimant has worked in the past as a coal miner. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning March 20, 2009 due to limitations resulting from emphysema, hypertension, low blood sugar, and spine issues.

         Procedural History

         On August 14, 2013, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) and on August 15, 2013, Claimant filed for supplemental security income under Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On July 27, 2015, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Lantz McClain by video with Claimant appearing in Poteau, Oklahoma and the ALJ presiding from Tulsa, Oklahoma. By decision dated August 26, 2015, the ALJ denied Claimant's request for benefits. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on November 30, 2015. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, he did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) failing to determine an appropriate RFC; (2) failing to properly evaluate Claimant's ability to perform the representative jobs at step five; and (3) failing to order a consultative mental examination.

         RFC Determination

         In his decision, the ALJ found Claimant suffered from the severe impairment of emphysema in a smoker and hypertension. (Tr. 15). The ALJ determined Claimant retained the RFC to perform light work. In so doing, the ALJ found Claimant could occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry ten pounds, stand/walk at least six hours in an eight hour workday with normal breaks, sit at ...


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