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Sarich v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

LORRAINE ELIZABETH SARICH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN P. SHREDER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Lorraine Elizabeth Sarich requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. She appeals the decision of the Commissioner 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[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 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: (1) whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘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). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See 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 years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 33, 253). She completed high school and two years of college and has worked as a real estate agent (Tr. 23, 281). The claimant alleges she has been unable to work since an amended onset date of May 30, 2013, due to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seasonal adjustment disorder (Tr. 280).

         Procedural History

         On April 30, 2013, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. Her applications were denied. ALJ James Bentley conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated June 8, 2017 (Tr. 15-25). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's decision represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with the additional limitations of avoiding unprotected heights and moving machinery; the inability to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and the inability to perform frequent overhead reaching with the right shoulder. Finally, he determined that she could understand, remember, and apply simple instructions with adequate pace and persistence to successfully complete simple tasks with routine supervision, that she could have occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors but not work-related contact with the public, and that she required a work environment with no strict production quotas such as assembly line work (Tr. 21). The ALJ thus concluded that although the claimant could not return to her past relevant work, she was nevertheless not disabled because there was work she could perform, e. g., housekeeper/cleaner, bottling line attendant, and conveyor-line bakery worker (Tr. 24).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to identify jobs at step five that were consistent with the assigned RFC. The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds this contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of depression, anxiety disorder, personality disorder with cluster B traits, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and differential diagnosis of seizures (Tr. 18). At the administrative hearing, the ALJ elicited testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”) to determine if the claimant could perform her past relevant work or if there were other jobs the claimant could perform with her limitations. He posed a series of hypothetical questions requiring the VE to assume various limitations and ...


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