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Nelson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2019

DAVID NELSON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant David Nelson requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he 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 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]

         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 years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 164). He completed eleventh grade and has previously worked as a truck driver (Tr. 192, 411). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since an amended onset date of May 2, 2015, due to bipolar disorder, diabetes, neuropathy, hearing loss, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 160, 410).

         Procedural History

         On December 18, 2014, 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 (Tr. 384-95). His applications were denied. ALJ Thomas John Wheeler conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 18, 2016 (Tr. 138-50). 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. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         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 residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), i. e., he 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 (Tr. 144). Additionally, he found that the claimant could perform simple one to two step tasks with routine supervision, adapt to a work setting and some changes in a work setting, and interact appropriately with coworkers and supervisors for incidental work purposes, but should avoid contact with the public (Tr. 144). Lastly, the ALJ found that the claimant had some difficulty with hearing and could understand conversations at normal volume and rate, but should avoid work around unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery (Tr. 144). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work that he could perform in the national economy, e. g., bench assembler and small parts assembler (Tr. 148-49).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ relied on vocational expert (“VE”) testimony at step five that was inconsistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). More specifically, he states that the RFC limitation of simple, one to two step tasks with routine supervision is inconsistent with a reasoning level of two. This contention does not have merit, and the decision of the Commissioner must therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of bilateral knee joint dysfunction, lumbar degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, neuropathy, hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperlipidemia, obesity, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and a history of polysubstance abuse (in remission) (Tr. 140). The medical evidence relevant to the claimant's mental impairments reflect that he received treatment at Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center (“CACMHC”) from July 2008 through June 2009 for bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (Tr. 621-26). The claimant indicated that he no longer wanted case management services in June 2009 and his chart ...

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