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Nichols v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 12, 2019

CLAYTON DALE NICHOLS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEVEN P. SHREDER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The claimant Clayton Dale Nichols 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 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 twenty-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 47, 205). He has a high school education and no past relevant work (Tr. 34, 51, 66). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since October 15, 2013, due to cervical dystonia (Tr. 218).

         Procedural History

         In August 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. 205-12). His applications were denied. ALJ Michael E. Finnie conducted an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated August 24, 2017 (Tr. 20-36). 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 a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a), i. e., he could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and could sit/stand/walk about six hours out of an eight-hour work day, but could have no more than occasional contact with the general public (Tr. 27). The ALJ then concluded that the claimant was not disabled because there was work he could perform in the national economy, i. e., handworker, line operator, and mail folding machine operator (Tr. 34-36).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate the opinions of his treating physicians, Dr. Jose Manus and Dr. Bharathy Sundaram. The Court finds the claimant's contention unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found that the claimant had the severe impairments of dystonia, spasmodic torticollis, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, but that his obesity was nonsevere (Tr. 23). The relevant medical records reveal that the claimant's primary care provider treated him for spasmodic torticollis in January 2014 and for dystonia in April 2014 and June 2014 (Tr. 322-25). January 2014 CT scans of the claimant's brain and cervical spine were normal apart from narrowing of the C5-6 disc ...


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