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Mullanix v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2018

RICKY L. MULLANIX, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ricky L. Mullanix (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's application 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 finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is 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 born on September 5, 1976 and was 39 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant completed his education through the eleventh grade with special education classes. Claimant has worked in the past as a taco maker, can maker, stocker, janitor, retail department manager, and laborer. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning July 6, 2011, as amended in the latest administrative hearing due to limitations resulting from heart problems, mental problems, back problems, and high blood pressure.

         Procedural History

         On June 21, 2011, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) and for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After an administrative hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) B. D. Crutchfield, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on May 29, 2013. The Appeals Council denied review of the decision on September 22, 2014. This Court, however, reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to Defendant for further proceedings on March 29, 2016.

         Upon remand by the Appeals Council, ALJ Crutchfield conducted a supplemental administrative hearing by video on August 2, 2016 with Claimant appearing in Muskogee, Oklahoma and the ALJ presiding from Tulsa, Oklahoma. On August 31, 2016, the ALJ entered a second unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council took no action on the review. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made her decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. She determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, he retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant work. The ALJ made alternative findings at step five that Claimant could perform medium work with limitations.

         Error Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) the step four and five analysis; (2) failing to properly weigh all pertinent medical source evidence; and ...


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