United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
RUSSELL T. A., II, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
F. Jayne, Judge
Russell T. A., II seeks judicial review of the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denying his claim for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423.
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the
parties have consented to proceed before a United States
Magistrate Judge. Any appeal of this decision will be
directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. For reasons
explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits.
Standard of Review
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported
by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence
is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Glass v.
Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994)). The
Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will
“meticulously examine the record as a whole, including
anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's
findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has
been met.” Id. (citing Washington v.
Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). The Court
may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if
the Court might have reached a different conclusion, the
Commissioner's decision stands so long as it is supported
by substantial evidence. See White v. Barnhart, 287
F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
Procedural History and ALJ's Decision
Plaintiff, then a 46-year-old male, protectively applied for
Title II benefits on May 1, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of January 4, 2011. R. 162-165. Plaintiff last met the
insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2011.
R. 19. Plaintiff claimed he was unable to work due to
psoriatic arthritis. R. 200. Plaintiff's claim for
benefits was denied initially on July 21, 2014, and on
reconsideration on October 27, 2014. R. 81-84; 88-90.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held an initial
hearing on November 9, 2015, but took no substantive
testimony. Instead, the ALJ gave Plaintiff, who was pro se at
that time, an opportunity to gather more medical records and
retain an attorney. R. 30-40. Plaintiff's hearing was
reset to April 12, 2016, and proceeded with Plaintiff's
counsel present. R. 41-65. Due to reported work activity
spanning the months of January through May 2011,
Plaintiff's attorney amended Plaintiff's alleged
onset date to May 31, 2011. R. 47, 48.
testified that he worked building swimming pools for twenty
years. Plaintiff was employed by Vivian Pools for “over
ten years” installing pools (R. 49), and then owned his
own pool company for ten years doing the same type of work.
Id. All of Plaintiff's past relevant work was
performed at the “very heavy” exertional level,
skilled, with SVPs of 8 (installer) and 7 (independent
contractor). R. 22. Plaintiff testified that he had to stop
building pools in May 2011 because he “couldn't
function because of my hands were - I had sausage fingers, I
couldn't make a fist.” R. 51. Plaintiff stated that
as of May 2011, normal pool installations that required an
average of two months to complete took him six months to
questioning, Plaintiff testified that he experienced episodes
of psoriasis since the 1990s that would “come and go,
” and he did not seek or receive treatment for
psoriatic arthritis beyond pain and anti-inflammatory
medication until 2012. R. 51-52, 55. However, in 2011
Plaintiff testified that he experienced “unexplainable
fever … for weeks” and had difficulty breathing
and walking, so he went to see a rheumatologist. R. 55.
Plaintiff testified that by the end of 2011, he spent a total
of three hours per day out of bed, and the remainder of the
time lying down to relieve symptoms. R. 57.
found that Plaintiff did not engage in any substantial
gainful activity from his amended alleged onset date, May 31,
2011, through his date last insured (“DLI”) of
December 31, 2011. R. 19. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff worked
on some pools after his original alleged onset date of
January 4, 2011, but the work did not rise to the level of
substantial gainful activity. Plaintiff denied working after
his amended alleged onset date. Id. The ALJ found
that through the DLI, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, and obesity. Id.
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal
any listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. The ALJ discussed listing 14.09 for psoriatic
arthritis, finding Plaintiff did not have “a persistent
inflammation or persistent deformity [that] causes an
inability to ambulate effectively and/or to perform fine and
gross movements effectively” and that Plaintiff's
condition did not “fulfill other requirements of severe
fatigue, malaise, or involuntary weight loss.” R. 20.
The ALJ also discussed listing 8.05 for psoriasis, finding
Plaintiff's condition “does not include extensive
lesions persisting at least three months despite continuing
treatment as prescribed.” Id. The ALJ found
Plaintiff's obesity, combined with his other impairments,
“somewhat reduce[d Plaintiff's] ability to stand,
walk, lift and carry. A reduction in capacity to work at the
light exertional range with some further appropriate work
restrictions is therefore warranted. These limitations are
accounted for in the residual functional capacity
[(“RFC”)] as determined herein.” R. 20.
to making a step four finding and after “careful
consideration of the entire record, ” the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following RFC during the relevant time
The claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform
less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b). He can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently. In an eight-hour workday, he can
stand/walk for six hours and sit for six hours. There can be
no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. There can be
frequent climbing of stairs and ramps, stooping, crouching,
crawling, kneeling, handling, and grasping.
Id. In making his RFC decision, the ALJ summarized
Plaintiff's hearing testimony, noting that Plaintiff
testified he stopped working “due to illness in May
2011, ” and Plaintiff's testimony that in 2011
“he could not turn his neck and so could not drive. His
spine and every joint were affected by his psoriatic
arthritis.” R. 21. The ALJ further noted that Plaintiff
“could not explain the statement in Exhibit 2F, page 45
that he did a lot of work in 2012. He thought it might refer
to chores he did around his home, not work for which he was
paid. However, the report from Michael Vu, M.D. states he had
been ‘very busy with a lot of physical jobs . . .
RFC discussion, the ALJ pointed out that “[a]ll but a
few of [Plaintiff's] medical records date after his date
last insured.” Id. Records from Muscogee
Nation Division of Health, dated December 20, 2011, show that
Plaintiff presented complaining of a psoriasis flare and
psoriatic arthritis. Plaintiff's chronic problems during
that visit were listed as “other psoriasis and similar
disorders, sleep apnea, obstructive, elevated BP without
hypertension.” R. 22. The ALJ mentioned findings from
this December 20, 2011, visit that, although Plaintiff did
have “extensive psoriatic plaques on his torso and
extremities, ” he also had normal range of motion,
muscle strength, and stability in all extremities, and no
pain on inspection. Id. The ALJ also noted that a
“report from Jasmine Gaddy, M.D. of Claremore Indian
Hospital sets [Plaintiff's] arthritic onset in September
2011 (Exhibit 5F, page 6).” Id.
found that Plaintiff's complaints were “not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other