United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
M. PURCELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of Defendant Acting Commissioner denying
his applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits
under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1382. Defendant has answered
the Complaint and filed the administrative record
(hereinafter AR___), and the parties have briefed the issues.
The matter has been referred to the undersigned for initial
proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(B)(1)(b).
For the following reasons, it is recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
Administrative History and Agency Decision
filed his applications in December 2013, alleging that he
became disabled on August 15, 2013, due to bipolar
disorder. At the time he filed his applications and
at the time he alleged he became disabled, Plaintiff was 25
years old. He had a high school education, and he worked
part-time as a sales clerk. Plaintiff stated that he stopped
working in January 2015 when he voluntarily quit his job.
administrative record reflects medical treatment of Plaintiff
for bipolar disorder, deep vein thrombosis, and superficial
thrombophlebitis. Plaintiff was prescribed medications for
these conditions. Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Li, opined in a letter dated December 10, 2013, that she had
treated Plaintiff since November 2008 for bipolar disorder
and that Plaintiff had symptoms of depression, anxiety,
racing thoughts, labile mood, fair insight, and fair to poor
impulse control. (AR 269, 411). Further, Dr. Li stated that
Plaintiff was unable to maintain steady employment due to his
labile mood, impulsivity, and inability to handle even daily
stressors in a healthy manner. According to Dr. Li, Plaintiff
was financially dependent on his parents, was easily
overwhelmed and worried about things, had periods of mania
with increased spending, impulsivity, racing thoughts, little
regard to consequences, and difficulty adjusting to even
slight changes in work environment or when faced with
stressful situations. Additionally, Dr. Li listed
Plaintiff's mood-stabilizing and anti-depressant
2014 Plaintiff underwent a consultative psychological
evaluation conducted by Dr. Waller. (AR 412-415). In this
evaluation, Plaintiff stated that he had a high school
education, lived with his parents, worked 2 days per week,
and was being treated for bipolar disorder with medications.
He was also undergoing therapy for a gambling problem. He had
never been hospitalized for a mental health impairment, and
he described his daily activities and symptoms. Dr. Waller
noted that a mental status examination of Plaintiff yielded
normal results. Dr. Waller also noted a diagnostic impression
of bipolar I disorder, most recent episode mixed, with rapid
cycling and possible pathological gambling.
appeared at a hearing conducted on August 6, 2015, before
Administrative Law Judge Merchan (“ALJ”).
Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. When provided hypothetical
questioning concerning an individual with Plaintiff's
vocational characteristics (age, education, and work
experience) and the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) (see AR 65-66) described by the
ALJ, the VE testified that such an individual could perform
the requirements of a number of jobs existing in the national
and state economies.
decision entered September 21, 2015, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had a severe impairment due to bipolar disorder.
Despite that impairment, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
capable of performing a full range of work at all exertional
levels but limited to “no more than simple, routine,
repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced
production requirements with only simple work-related
decision making and few, if any, changes in the work setting;
he should have no public contact; he can tolerate occasional
contact with supervisors and co-workers; and he would not be
able to perform joint, team, or tandem tasks.” (AR 15).
on the VE's testimony concerning the availability of jobs
for an individual with this RFC for work, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Specifically, the ALJ found that jobs exist in
the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including
the representative jobs of document scanner, janitor, and
groundskeeper. Based on these findings, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's applications for benefits.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
and therefore the ALJ's decision is the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th
General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review
Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence in the record and
whether the correct legal standards were applied. Wilson
v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010);
Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir.
2003). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than
a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The “determination of
whether the ALJ's ruling is supported by substantial
evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole.
Consequently, [the Court must] remain mindful that evidence
is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in
the record.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052
(citations, internal quotation marks, and brackets omitted).
Social Security Act authorizes payment of benefits to an
individual with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. A
disability is an “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
accord, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A);
see 20 C.F.R. § 416.909 (duration requirement).
Both the “impairment” and the
“inability” must be expected to last not less
than twelve months. Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212
agency follows a five-step sequential evaluation procedure in
resolving the claims of disability applicants. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), (b)-(g), 416.920(a)(4), (b)-(g).
“If the claimant is not considered disabled at step
three, but has satisfied her burden of establishing a prima
facie case of disability under steps one, two, and four, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant has
the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform other work
in the national economy in view of her age, education, and
work experience.” Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart,
431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005). “The claimant is
entitled to disability benefits only if he [or she] is not
able to perform other work.” Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987).
Evaluation of Medical ...