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Dill v. COMMISSIONER of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 1, 2019

CRAIG DILL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Craig Dill requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The claimant appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed 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 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.[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 reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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 forty-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 23). He completed high school, and has worked as a derrick worker (Tr. 17, 226). The claimant alleges inability to work since an amended alleged onset date of April 25, 2014, due to high blood pressure, Hepatitis C, diabetes, neuropathy, left-eye blindness, and ankles (Tr. 225).

         Procedural History

         The claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85, on March 31, 2015. His applications were denied. Following an administrative hearing, ALJ James Bentley found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 4, 2016 (Tr. 11-18). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1581.

         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 ability to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i. e., that he could lift/carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit for up to six hours and stand/walk for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, but that he required a sit/stand option defined as a temporary change in position from sitting to standing no more than once every twenty minutes, without leaving the workstation so as not to diminish pace or production. Additionally, he limited the claimant to occasionally climbing ramps/stairs, and avoiding normal workplace hazards (such as doors left ajar and boxes on the floor), as well as avoiding unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery (Tr. 14). The ALJ concluded that even though the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., small products assembler, inspector packer, and electric accessory assembler (Tr. 16-18).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly evaluate his RFC, and (ii) failing to properly account for his nonsevere impairments. As to the first contention, the claimant specifically asserts that the ALJ failed to conduct a function-by-function assessment, improperly rejected a consultative examiner's opinion, failed to account for limitations related to his ankle injury and vision loss, and did not account for his use of a cane. None of these contentions are ultimately persuasive, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of Hepatitis C, left eye blindness, diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, severe left ankle sprain, moderate spondylosis of the thoracic spine, and obesity, as well as the nonsevere impairment of headaches (Tr. 13). The medical evidence in the record reflects that the claimant lost his left eye in the 1990s due to an incident involving battery acid in his face (Tr. 294). Additionally, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2013, and he was ...


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