United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
PATRICE D. S.-R., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
F. Jayne, Judge
Patrice D. S.-R. seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her 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. For reasons
explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits. Any appeal of this decision will
be directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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)). “A
decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a
mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Hamlin
v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004). The
Court must “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.” Grogan, 399
F.3d at 1261 (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 54-year-old female, protectively applied
for Title II benefits on April 23, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of April 1, 2014. R. 228-231. Plaintiff
met the insured status requirements of the Act through
September 30, 2018. R. 19, 21. Plaintiff listed the
conditions preventing her from working as “neck,
shoulders, headaches, PTSD, depression, high blood pressure,
diabetic, left arm goes numb, left knee, back, [and] mild
heart attack.” R. 262. Plaintiff's claim for
benefits was denied initially on July 24, 2014, and on
reconsideration on November 20, 2014. R. 115-119; 125-127.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), and the ALJ held the hearing
on June 7, 2016. R. 43-83. The ALJ issued a decision on June
17, 2016, finding at step five that Plaintiff was not
disabled because she could perform other work. R. 37-38.
hearing focused primarily on Plaintiff's work history
following her alleged onset date and her mental impairments.
R. 48-67. With respect to physical impairments, the ALJ asked
Plaintiff if her diabetes and blood pressure had at times
been out of control, and Plaintiff admitted she was not on
insulin despite doctors' advice. R. 69. Plaintiff was
then taking Janumet and Metaformin for diabetes and
Gabapentin for neuropathy, which Plaintiff described as the
pain accompanying her diabetes. R. 71. When asked about this
pain, the ALJ inquired if the medication helped. Plaintiff
said it does help if she takes it three to four times a day,
as prescribed by her doctors at Morton Health Clinic. R.
conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel and the
ALJ discussed the opinion of mental consultative examiner Dr.
Barton that Plaintiff may have difficulty adapting to the
demands of a work environment, but that this difficulty was
due more to physical pain than mental health conditions. R.
80. After the ALJ commented that physical pain was outside
Dr. Barton's expertise, counsel said “then maybe we
need to look into the physical part of this case” and
mentioned the lack of any “consultative examination of
her physical.” R. 81. They had the following exchange,
which forecasts certain issues raised in this appeal:
ALJ: Actually, I said no exertional limit actions [in
hypothetical to vocational expert (“VE”)].
Atty: Well, I know but then you were asking for medium jobs
because if it was - ALJ: Because if she's limited to
light then she's disabled under the grids.
Atty: I know, and that's why you need - then if you
believe that, that's fine. I'm okay with that. But if
you don't believe it, then we need to see - have a doctor
look at her and - ALJ: She's had doctors look at her.
She's been to OS U.She's been to Morton Clinic.
Atty: Well . . . they don't give us RFCs.
ALJ: No. but they give us physical examinations.
Atty: Well, okay. And I don't see that those show that
she could do - lift 50 pounds.
ALJ: Okay. That's your understanding of what the medical
record is. ...