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Sitton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 24, 2018

ROGER EDWIN SITTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL J. CLEARY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Roger Edwin Sitton, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).

         Background

         Plaintiff was 45 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 53 at the time of the ALJ's denial decision. He has a high school education, attended Tulsa Welding School, and formerly worked as a heavy equipment operator and TIG welder. He claims to have been unable to work since December 19, 2007, as a result of knee pain following four left knee surgeries and two right knee surgeries, hip pain, history of coronary catheterizations, myocardial infarction requiring balloon angioplasty, and chest pain, schizophrenia, hallucinations, and depression.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work involving lifting and/or carrying, and pushing and/or pulling 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, standing and/or walking for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday, sitting for 6-8 hours in an 8-hour workday, all with normal breaks. He is limited to simple and routine work with no more than superficial contact with coworkers or supervisors “and no close proximity to coworkers, ” as well as no contact with the public. [R. 13].

         Although Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with these limitations. The case was thus decided at step five of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the testimony of the vocational expert does not constitute substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision because the ALJ's hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert did not include all of the limitations contained in the ALJ's RFC finding. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence.

         Analysis

         Content of Hypothetical Question to Vocational Expert

         It has long been the rule that "testimony elicited by hypothetical questions that do not relate with precision all the claimants' impairments cannot constitute substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] decision." Hargis v. Sullivan,945 F.2d 1482, 1492 (10th Cir. 1991). In this case the ALJ's hypothetical question to the vocational expert did not contain the limitation contained in the RFC that Plaintiff could have “no close proximity to ...


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