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McDaniel v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2018

Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Steven L. McDaniel (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 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 63 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant completed thirteen years of education. Claimant is a military veteran who has worked in the past as payroll technician at a Veterans Administration hospital. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning October 23, 2009 due to limitations resulting from PTSD.

         Procedural History

         The history of this case is extensive and somewhat tortured. Claimant originally filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the Social Security Act on January 20, 2009. Claimant's application was denied and he did not appeal the decision.

         On October 26, 2009, Claimant filed a second Title II application. This application was denied and Claimant did not appeal the decision.

         On August 11, 2011, Claimant filed a third Title II application. The application was denied. Claimant sought reconsideration of the decision and the application was denied on reconsideration. Claimant did not appeal the reconsidered decision.

         On July 14, 2013, Claimant filed a fourth Title II application. On December 20, 2013, the agency issued a decision finding Claimant disabled beginning July 5, 2012, the day after the period of time that was previously adjudicated in a prior denial of an application filed by Claimant. Claimant requested reconsideration wherein he disagreed with the agency's determination of the date of disability onset. The agency reconsidered the decision and affirmed the disability began on June 5, 2012. Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         On April 27, 2015, Claimant appeared with counsel before ALJ David Engel in Tulsa, Oklahoma for an administrative hearing. Claimant's counsel requested that the ALJ reopen Claimant's prior Title II applications and modify the onset date to October 26, 2009. On June 15, 2015, the ALJ determined that Claimant was disabled beginning June 5, 2012. He found no basis for reopening Claimant's prior Title II applications. The Appeals Council denied review on September 6, 2016. As a result, 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 ...

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