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Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

February 27, 2018

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



         The claimant Michael D. Wilson requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby 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[.]” 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 on June 25, 1977, and was thirty-six years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 156). He attended some college, and has worked as a stock clerk, sales attendant, and dispatcher (Tr. 50, 78). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since December 14, 2008, due to a back injury and carpal tunnel syndrome (Tr. 213).

         Procedural History

         On January 7, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 156-57). His application was denied. ALJ Bernard Porter conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 8, 2014 (Tr. 21-37). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with frequent balancing, stooping, crouching, handling, fingering, and feeling; occasional kneeling, climbing ramps and stairs, and using hand controls; and no crawling, overhead reaching, and climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds (Tr. 28). The ALJ further found the claimant must avoid exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, and temperature extremes (Tr. 28). Additionally, the ALJ found the claimant required a sit/stand option allowing a change in position at least every thirty minutes (Tr. 28). Due to psychologically based factors, the ALJ found the claimant could perform simple tasks; make simple work-related decisions; and have no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public (Tr. 28). The ALJ found that the claimant's time off task would be accommodated by normal breaks (Tr. 28). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that he could perform in the national economy, e. g., small product assembler and production assembler (Tr. 35-36).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly account for his carpal tunnel syndrome in the RFC. The Court finds the claimant's contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, lumbar disc disease, thoracic spine fracture with disc disease, left shoulder strain/sprain, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder (Tr. 22). The relevant medical records reveal that prior to November 2011, the claimant's treatment largely consisted of emergent care for back pain (December 2008) and neck/shoulder pain (February 2010 and June 2010) (Tr. 272-76, 291-98, 340-42). On November 16, 2011, the claimant established care with Dr. Alexander Lee and reported back pain that began twenty years earlier and was exacerbated by a fall in December 2008 (Tr. 332-33). On physical examination, Dr. Lee found limited flexion and extension in the claimant's thoracic spine due to pain, spasm, and kyphosis (Tr. 333). As to the ...

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