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Morris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Sherry Morris (“Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's applications 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 recommendation of the undersigned that the Commissioner's decision 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 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 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Claimant completed her high school education and one year of college. Claimant has worked in the past as an office manager. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning April 18, 2010 due to limitations caused by neuropathy, lupus, and fibromyalgia.

         Procedural History

         On September 6, 2013, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On February 19, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Doug Gabbard, II in McAlester, Oklahoma. By decision dated April 7, 2015, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled during the relevant period and denied Claimant's request for benefits. On October 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, 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 two of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from medically determinable impairments, none significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve consecutive months and, therefore, were not severe.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) concluding that none of Claimant's medically determinable impairments were severe; (2) failing to properly weigh the opinions of Claimant's treating physician; and (3) failing to properly evaluate Claimant's credibility. The Court will address these issues somewhat out of the order from which they are presented in the briefing.

         Consideration of the Treating Physician's Opinion

         In his decision, the ALJ determined Claimant suffered from the medically determinable impairments of fibromyalgia, anxiety, affective disorders, migraines, GERD, chronic interstitial cystitis, tibialis tendinitis, enthesopathy of ankle and tarsus, plantar fascial fibromatosis, myalgia, anorexia, genital herpes, back pain, hip pain, leg pain, ankle and foot pain, chronic pelvic pain, painful urination, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. (Tr. 15). He concluded that none of these impairments or combination of impairments had significantly limited or was expected to significantly limit Claimant's ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months. Therefore, the ALJ ...

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