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Patrice D. S.-R. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 25, 2019

PATRICE D. S.-R., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Jodi F. Jayne, Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Standard of Review

          In 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).

         II. 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.

         The 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. 71-72.

         At the 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. ...

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