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Gatzman 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 Danielle Sandra Gatzman 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. Additionally, the claimant filed a motion requesting oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the motion requesting oral argument is hereby DENIED and 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 twenty-four years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 43). She has a high school education and has worked as a communications technician (Tr. 60, 288). The claimant alleges that she has been unable to work since January 1, 2015, due to posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and anxiety (Tr. 287).

         Procedural History

         On August 1, 2016, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 (Tr. 12, 245-46). Her application was denied. ALJ Lantz McClain conducted an administrative hearing and a supplemental hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled through her date last insured of June 30, 2016, in a written opinion dated March 1, 2018 (Tr. 12-30). 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 the claimant could perform work at all exertional levels, but was limited to simple repetitive tasks, could relate to supervisors and coworkers superficially, and could not work with the public (Tr. 18). The ALJ then 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 in the national economy, i. e., hand packager and laundry worker (Tr. 28-30).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) improperly determining that she did not meet the requirements of Appendix 1, Part 404, Subpart P (“the Listings”), specifically Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.15; (ii) failing to properly assess the evidence at step four in determining her RFC; (iii) improperly discounting her subjective statements; and (iv) ignoring the testimony of the Vocational Expert (“VE”). At step four, the claimant specifically asserts that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the evidence from treating physician Dr. Raidoo, consultative physician Dr. Rippy, and medical expert Dr. Simonds, and failed to properly account for her disability rating from the Veteran's Administration (“VA”). The undersigned Magistrate Judge finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of anxiety, PTSD, and depression, but that her migraine headaches were nonsevere (Tr. 15-16). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant received treatment exclusively through the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. On March 22, 2014, claimant presented to the emergency department seeking mental health services because she was sexually assaulted by a civilian in June 2013 while serving in the Army, was having ...

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