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Moore v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 12, 2019

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



         The claimant Michael Shane Moore 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 the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is hereby 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 forty years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 115). He has a high school equivalent education and has worked as a semi-truck driver, industrial truck mechanic, and industrial maintenance repairer (Tr. 118, 131). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since May 27, 2015, due to a back injury, double lumbar fusion at ¶ 3-L5, hip and joint pain, spinal nerve damage that causes a left foot burning sensation, and arthritis (Tr. 315).

         Procedural History

          In July 2015, 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 (Tr. 264-71). His applications were denied. ALJ John W. Belcher conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated April 5, 2017 (Tr. 90-103). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written opinion represents the Commissioners' 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 sedentary work with occasional climbing stairs, balancing, bending, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, but should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolding (Tr. 93). The ALJ then concluded that although the claimant could not return to his past relevant work, he was nevertheless not disabled because there was work he could perform in the national economy, e. g., document specialist, touch-up screener, and surveillance system monitor (Tr. 102-03).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (i) analyze the opinions of nurse practitioner Kelly Hokit and physical therapist Christopher Ritchie, and (ii) evaluate his subjective statements. The Court finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found the claimant's obesity, degenerative disc disease status post fusion, hip pain, and asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were severe impairments; his gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and tinnitus were nonsevere impairments; and his sleep apnea and irritable bowel syndrome were not medically determinable (Tr. 93). The medical evidence relevant to this appeal reveals that on October 7, 2013, the claimant underwent a discectomy and fusion at L4-5 and L5-S1, and a laminectomy at L4-5 performed by Dr. Benjamin Benner and Dr. Ryan Rahhal (Tr. 399, 406-10). At a follow-up appointment on October 22, ...

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