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Olsen v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 12, 2019

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



         The claimant Woody Olsen 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 fifty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 34). He has a high school education and has worked as an electrician and chief electrician (Tr. 34, 55). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since May 16, 2015, due to degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, arthritis, sciatic nerve pain, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (Tr. 254).

         Procedural History

         On May 26, 2015, the claimant applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and on June 5, 2015, he applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 15, 200-12). His applications were denied. ALJ Lantz McClain conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated February 14, 2017 (Tr. 15-25). 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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), except he needed to avoid work above shoulder level (Tr. 19). The ALJ further found the claimant could perform simple, repetitive tasks, and relate to supervisors and co-workers superficially, but could not work with the general public (Tr. 19). 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., mail room clerk and laundry sorter (Tr. 23-24).


          The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to: (i) properly analyze the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Theresa Horton, and (ii) resolve a conflict between the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony and the Dictionary of Occupation Titles (“DOT”). The Court finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of status post cervical spine surgery, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, dysthymia (mild depression), and anxiety, but that his hypothyroidism, hypertension, and status post carpal tunnel syndrome were nonsevere (Tr. 17-18). The relevant medical evidence as to the claimant's mental impairments reveals that primary care physician, Dr. Charles Jackson, managed the claimant's medications for anxiety disorder from October 2013 through July 2016 (Tr. 409, 556-592). Primary care physician, Dr. Gloria Grim, treated the claimant for depressive disorder in July 2016 and August 2016 and for mood disorder in ...

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