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Coffey v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         The claimant Michael G. Coffey requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The claimant appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision should be 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]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term substantial evidence has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “‘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). The Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, 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-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 26, 143). He completed high school and has worked as a heat and air conditioner technician (Tr. 19, 181). The claimant alleges inability to work since May 31, 2016, due to his back, shoulders, and neck (Tr. 180).

         Procedural History

         The claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, on June 17, 2016. His application was denied. Following an administrative hearing, ALJ Susan W. Conyers found that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 17, 2017 (Tr. 11-21). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made her decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. She found that the claimant had the ability to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), but that he could only occasionally stoop, kneel crouch, and crawl (Tr. 16). The ALJ concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was not disabled because there was work he could perform, i. e., service dispatcher and calibration tech (Tr. 19-20).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly weigh the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Robert Remondino. This contention is not persuasive, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of disorders of the spine (thoracic spine, lumbar spine, status post 360 degrees L4/L5 and L5/S1 discectomy and fusion), history of lumbar fusion 2008, and obesity, as well as the nonsevere impairments of hypertension and anxiety (Tr. 13-14). The relevant medical evidence reflects that the claimant underwent L4/L5 and L5/S1 anterior lumbar interbody fusion and L4 to sacral posterolateral/facet fusion with placement of Spire intersegmental fixation plate and L5/S1 facet screws (Tr. 314-323). On February 22, 2016, the claimant's neurosurgeon Dr. Robert ...

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