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Clayton v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         The claimant Edith Clayton 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 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 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.[2]

         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-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 206). She has a high school equivalent education and has worked as a receptionist, dialysis technician, nurse aide, and light truck driver (Tr. 55, 240). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since an amended onset date of August 20, 2015, due to depression, high blood pressure, and tremors in her head and neck (Tr. 38, 239).

         Procedural History

In October 2015, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 206-14). Her application was denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated December 27, 2016 (Tr. 19-28). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion represents the Commissioner's 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 the claimant could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except she could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks with routine supervision; could relate to coworkers and supervisors only on a superficial work basis; and could have no work-related contact with the general public (Tr. 23). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was other work she could perform in the national economy, i. e., housekeeper/cleaner, bottling line attendant, and small products assembler (Tr. 27-28).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) account for her crying spells when forming the RFC, and (ii) evaluate the opinion of treating physician Dr. Tayyaba Ali. The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and essential hypertension, but that her cholecystitis/cholelithiasis was nonsevere (Tr. 21-22). The relevant medical evidence related to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that Dr. Brian Allee treated the claimant for depression and anxiety in August 2014 and December 2015 (Tr. 340-41, 438-39). In August 2014, the claimant reported that she was significantly worried about her husband's health and had taken antidepressant medication in the past that was very effective (Tr. 340). Dr. Allee noted the claimant was alert, pleasant, cooperative, and appropriate, but a “little bit emotional at times” (Tr. 340). In December 2015, the claimant reported increased anxiety and ...

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