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Hill-Wilson 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 Rita C. Hill-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). 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 fifty-three years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 346). She completed two years of college, and has previously worked as a filler, bottling line attendant, personal care aide, and tax preparer (Tr. 162, 365-366). The claimant alleges that she was unable to work from June 9, 2010 through September 14, 2014, due to depression, anxiety, back pain, and ringing in her ears (Tr. 159, 344).

         Procedural History

          On July 11, 2011, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Her application was denied. ALJ Richard A. Kallsnick conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated January 10, 2013 (Tr. 39-48). The Appeals Council denied review, but this Court reversed in No. CIV-14-368-FHS-KEW and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings on March 30, 2016 (Tr. 404-419). On remand, ALJ B.D. Crutchfield conducted a second administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant was not disabled, for a closed period from June 9, 2010 through September 14, 2014. The Appeals Council again denied review, so ALJ Crutchfield'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 her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), i. e., she could lift/carry/push/pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Additionally, she found that the claimant could perform simple tasks and relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis, but that she could have no contact with the public (Tr. 318). 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 that she could perform, e. g., mailroom clerk, laundry sorter, and assembler (Tr. 326-327).


          The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly consider the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, and (ii) failing to identify jobs she could perform in light of the assigned RFC. Neither of these contentions have merit, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of anxiety, depression, obesity, and degenerative disc disease (Tr. 316). The medical evidence relevant to the claimant's mental impairment reflect that she received treatment at CREOKS Mental Health Center, with Dr. Vanessa Werlla. Treatment records reflect the claimant was assessed with neurotic depression in ...

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