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Keen v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 8, 2019

JANET L. KEEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KIMBERLY E. WEST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Janet L. Keen (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 recommendation of the undersigned that the Commissioner's decision 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. . .” 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 56 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant completed high school and obtained a college degree in accounting. Claimant has worked in the past as an administrative clerk. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning April 1, 2009 due to limitations resulting from cyclic vomiting syndrome, COPD, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, vision problems, and allegies.

         Procedural History

         On August 21, 2012, Claimant protectively filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) and for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §1381, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On April 15, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Doug Gabbard, II conducted an administrative hearing by video with Claimant appearing in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the ALJ presiding from McAlester, Oklahoma. On July 11, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. On July 22, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review. A request for review to this Court, however, resulted in the reversal of the decision and remand of the case.

         On remand, ALJ David Engel conducted a second administrative hearing on April 12, 2017 and issued an unfavorable decision on May 23, 2017. Claimant sought an immediate review in this Court. As a result, the decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with limitations.

         Error Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) failing to reach a proper RFC determination (with many subparts to the issue); and (2) failing to make findings ...


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