United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
EVELYN D. WHITAKER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
claimant Evelyn D. Whitaker 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 the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining she was not disabled. For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Security Law and Standard of Review
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.
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
claimant was forty-six years old at the time of the
administrative hearing (Tr. 45, 152). She has a high school
education and has worked as a box maker and poultry boner
(Tr. 62-63, 191). The claimant alleges that she has been
unable to work since an amended onset date of December 1,
2014, due to back problems, leg pain, chest pain, high blood
pressure, tension headaches, and anemia (Tr. 52, 190).
November 20, 2014, the claimant applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 152-58). Her application
was denied. ALJ Charles Walters conducted an administrative
hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in
a written opinion dated July 22, 2016 (Tr. 12-27). The
Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written
opinion represents the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §
of the Administrative Law Judge
made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation.
He found the claimant retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a),
i. e., she could lift, carry, push, or pull less
than ten pounds frequently and up to ten pounds occasionally;
sit for six hours in an eight-hour day; and stand/walk for
two hours in an eight-hour day (Tr. 19). The ALJ also limited
the claimant to simple work-related decisions, and simple,
routine, repetitive tasks not at a production rate pace (Tr.
19). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not
return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not
disabled because there was other work she could perform in
the national economy, e. g., addresser, telephone
question clerk, and assembler (Tr. 24-26).
claimant contends that the ALJ erred when assessing the RFC
by failing to: (i) consider her severe obesity, (ii) consider
the combined effects of her nonsevere impairments, and (iii)
provide limitations for her moderate difficulties in social
functioning. The Court finds these contentions unpersuasive
for the following reasons.
found that the claimant had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, ischemic heart
disease, angina, depression, anxiety, and obesity (Tr. 16).
The relevant medical evidence reveals that Dr. Jon Maxwell
treated the claimant for depression on December 20, 2012 (Tr.
353-54). Additionally, Dr. Maxwell treated the claimant for
back pain from February 2013 through March 2014 (Tr. 338-52).
Dr. Maxwell consistently found tenderness in the
claimant's lumbar region and noted that she had
difficulty standing from a sitting position on two occasions
(Tr. 338-52). A lumbar spine MRI conducted on March 8, 2013,
revealed a 2-3mm disc bulge, disc desiccation, mild bilateral
neural foraminal narrowing, and early facet arthritis at
¶ 4/5, and mild degenerative facet hypertrophic
arthritic changes at ¶ 5/S1 causing mild bilateral
neural foraminal ...