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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2018

TAYLOR M. WALKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.



         The claimant Taylor M. Walker 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 the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be 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 April 8, 1982, and was thirty-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 68, 1850). She completed the eleventh grade, and has worked as a cashier checker/clerk (Tr. 60, 204). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since December 31, 2011 due to epileptic seizures, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 203).

         Procedural History

         On June 28, 2013, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-8. Her application was denied. ALJ Luke Liter held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated July 2, 2015 (Tr. 52-62). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 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 RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), i. e., she could lift/carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently, and stand/walk and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, but with the additional postural limitations of occasionally climbing ramps/stairs and no climbing ropes/ladders/scaffolds. Furthermore, he stated that the claimant was unable to tolerate exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery, and that driving should not be part of her job duties. Finally, he limited her to simple and some complex tasks (defined as semi-skilled work with a specific vocational preparation (SVP) of 3-4); found that contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors should be limited to occasional; and determined she would be absent from work one day per month (Tr. 57). The ALJ therefore concluded that the claimant could return to her past relevant work as a cashier/checker (Tr. 60). Alternatively, he found that the claimant was not disabled because there was other work she could perform in the economy, e. g., hand packager, dietary aide, and order puller (Tr. 61).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) improperly evaluating her credibility, (ii) failing to properly assess her RFC, and (iii) failing to fully develop the record.[3] The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of obesity, seizure disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 54). The specific medical evidence relevant to this appeal reflects that the claimant has received mental health treatment, including diagnoses of bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and depressive disorder, accompanied by signs of depression, irritability, and anxiety (Tr. 339). In 2011, her counselor wrote that she had a lot of problems she had never faced, and needed to talk with someone about them (Tr. 346). On May 28, 2012, the claimant was admitted to the hospital with an altered mental status, noting that she may have had a seizure (Tr. 466). She was stabilized and discharged (Tr. 468). She also presented to the hospital with an altered mental status on March 22, 2013, stating it ...

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