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Adams v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

CHAD JAMES ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Chad James Adams requests judicial review of a denial of benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). He appeals the Commissioner's decision 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.[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 twenty-four years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 34, 52). He completed eleventh grade and has no past relevant work (Tr. 44, 233). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since December 15, 2013, due to heat stroke, acute kidney failure, tremors, dissociative disorder, high blood pressure, panic attacks, reflux, and depression (Tr. 232).

         Procedural History

         On March 18, 2014, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 15, 201-07). His application was denied. ALJ Kenton W. Fulton held an administrative hearing and a supplemental hearing, and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated May 2, 2017 (Tr. 15-25). 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. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at all exertional levels, but must avoid exposure to dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; could perform simple and detailed tasks and instructions; could have no public interaction; and could have no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors (Tr. 20). The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled because there was work that he could perform in the national economy, e. g., dining room attendant, dishwasher, and floor maintenance worker (Tr. 24-25).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinion of consultative psychological examiner Julie S. Wallace, Ph.D., which in turn, caused errors at step five with respect to the jobs the vocational expert identified. The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds these contentions do not have merit, and the decision of the Commissioner should therefore be affirmed.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of anxiety disorders, depression, borderline intellectual functioning, and asthma; the nonsevere impairments of hypertension and alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine dependence; and that his alleged gastroparesis was not medically determinable (Tr. 17-18). The medical evidence relevant to the claimant's mental impairments reflects that Dr. Erica Sun regularly treated the claimant for depression and anxiety between February 2012 and June 2013 and sporadically thereafter until January 2017 (Tr. 514-71, 707-09, 721-23, 935-36, 945-46, 970-71). Dr. Sun consistently noted the claimant's mood was euthymic and his affect was congruent (Tr. 514-71, 707-09, 935-36, 945-46, 970-71). At a follow-up appointment in June 2013, the claimant indicated that his depression and anxiety were under good control (Tr. 571). On September 24, 2014, the claimant presented to Dr. Sun for follow-up after seeking emergent care for suicidal ideations and domestic violence (Tr. 722). She noted the claimant's mood was tearful and dysphoric and his affect was congruent (Tr. 722-23). At a follow-up appointment in June 2016, the claimant rated his mood and anxiety at eight (with ten being the best) and indicated that his medication helped him “be more social and get out more” (Tr. 935). Dr. Sun's mental status ...


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