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Price v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 25, 2019

SONYA W. PRICE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Sonya W. Price requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She appeals the Commissioner's decision and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining she 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 h[er] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] 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 most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 45). She has a high school education and has worked as a home health aide (Tr. 46, 220). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since September 15, 2010, due to pseudogout, arthritis, bursitis, anxiety, and depression (Tr. 384).

         Procedural History

         On September 15, 2011, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 314-18). Her application was denied. ALJ Larry D. Shepherd conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 30, 2013 (Tr. 81-91). The Appeals Council denied review, but the claimant appealed to this Court and the case was remanded on July 6, 2015, at the request of the Commissioner and pursuant to the sixth sentence of 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for consideration of evidence from Carl Albert Indian Hospital dated October 6, 2011, through February 9, 2012 (Tr. 99-101). On remand, ALJ Larry D. Shepherd conducted a second administrative hearing and again determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated January 26, 2017 (Tr. 11-28). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's January 2017 written opinion represents the Commissioners' final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), i. e., she could lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and walk for at least two hours in an eight-hour workday; frequently handle and finger; and occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and reach overhead; but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, dusts, fumes, gases, odors, and poor ventilation (Tr. 18). Due to psychologically-based limitations, the ALJ found the claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; relate to supervisors and coworkers on a superficial work basis; and respond in an appropriate manner to usual work situations; but could have no contact with the general public (Tr. 18). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled through December 31, 2014, the date last insured, because there was work she could perform in the national economy, e. g., address clerk, document preparer, and product inspector (Tr. 26-28).


         The claimant's sole contention of error is that the ALJ erred in evaluating her subjective reports of pain. The Court finds this contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, bursitis, right foot disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, hypertension, peripheral edema, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, fibromyalgia, morbid obesity, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks, but that her hearing loss was nonsevere (Tr. 14). The relevant medical record reveals that the claimant regularly consulted with family practice providers at Chickasaw Nation Medical Center between January 2011 and January 2015 for joint pain in her hands, right shoulder, knees, and feet (Tr. 551-59, 828-905). The various assessments relevant to her disability claim included shoulder pain, arthralgias, osteoarthritis of the right and left knee, rheumatoid arthritis, rotator cuff injury to right shoulder, and obesity. Her treatment consisted largely of medication management, although she received steroid injections in January 2012, April 2012, July 2012, and October 2014 (Tr. 836, 886-87, 898). After medication modifications due to side effects in February 2012, April 2012, and November 2012, the claimant generally ...

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