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Holmes v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 6, 2019

COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Amanda Jo Holmes requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she 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 h[er] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] 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]

         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 thirty-five years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 269). She has a high school education and has worked as a retail sales clerk, stock clerk, cashier II, short order cook, and sales clerk (Tr. 171, 297). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since June 16, 2015, due to bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), borderline personality disorder, agoraphobia, and dissociative identity disorder (Tr. 296).

         Procedural History

          On June 18, 2015, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her application was denied. ALJ Dierdre O. Dexter conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 22, 2016 (Tr. 107-120). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion represents the Commissioners' final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

          The ALJ made her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with the following nonexertional limitations: (i) simple, routine, and repetitive tasks not at production rate; (ii) occasional interaction with supervisors to receive work instructions; (iii) no more than occasional, direct, work-related interaction with co-workers; (iv) no interaction with the general public; and (v) no more than ordinary and routine changes in work setting or work duties (Tr. 112). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform in the national economy, e. g., industrial sweeper, floor waxer, and hand packager (Tr. 118-20).


          The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of treating physician Dr. Michael Collins. The Court finds this contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, affective disorder, anxiety related disorder, personality disorder, and substance addiction disorder, but that her asthma, restless leg syndrome, and fibromyalgia were nonsevere (Tr. 109). The relevant medical record reveals that Dr. Carol Gambrill treated the claimant for anxiety from January 2013 through August 2014 and for bipolar disorder in May 2014 and August 2014 (Tr. 380-99). Thereafter, the claimant's primary care physician, Dr. Douglas Brown, treated her for, inter alia, unspecified bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia due to mental disorder, agoraphobia with panic disorder, and chronic PTSD from October 2014 through June 2016 (Tr. 446-519, 556-606). At a follow-up appointment on August 12, 2015, Dr. Brown noted the claimant's bipolar disorder and agoraphobia were stable and controlled on medication, and that her PTSD was stable (Tr. 514). Dr. ...

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