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Bishop v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 12, 2019

DONALD RAY BISHOP, 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 Donald Ray Bishop 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-eight years old at the time of the administrative hearing (Tr. 35). He completed ninth grade and has worked as a heavy equipment operator (Tr. 37, 49-50). The claimant alleges that he has been unable to work since an amended onset date of September 19, 2015, due to diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, neuropathy, memory loss, lack of reading comprehension, dyslexia, obesity, vision problems, and back problems (Tr. 34, 168, 178).

         Procedural History

         In September 2015, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (Tr. 155-60). His application was denied. ALJ James Linehan held an administrative hearing and determined that the claimant was not disabled in a written opinion dated March 23, 2017 (Tr. 14-27). 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. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He found the claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), i. e., he could lift and carry forty pounds occasionally and twenty pounds frequently; stand/walk alternatively for six hours in an eight-hour workday with intermittent sitting throughout the day; reach, push, and pull with his upper extremities and use his hands for grasping, holding, and turning objects up to eight hours per eight-hour day; and climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and balance up to six hours per eight-hour day (Tr. 20). Due to psychologically-based limitations, the ALJ found the claimant could perform work with a Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) level of two or less with limited ability to apply common sense understanding to remember and carry out very short and simple written or oral instructions (Tr. 20). The ALJ further found the claimant could make simple work-related decisions, occasionally interact with supervisors and co-workers, and have contact with the general public incidental to work purposes (Tr. 20). 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, i. e., bakery racker, conveyor line bakery worker, and bottling line attendant (Tr. 25-27).

         Review

         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate the opinions of treating physician Dr. Ellis and state agency psychologists Dr. Lochner and Dr. Swisher, and failed to consider the possible reasons for his noncompliance when evaluating his subjective statements. The Court finds these contentions unpersuasive for the following reasons.

         The ALJ found the claimant had the severe impairments of diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, personality disorder, and depression, but that his hypertension and obesity were non-severe (Tr. 16-17). The relevant medical evidence reveals that the claimant presented to Dr. Ellis in December 2014, at which time he diagnosed the claimant with depression, diabetes, hypertension, headache, obesity, and tobacco use disorder (Tr. 261-264). At a follow-up appointment in January 2015, the claimant's blood pressure was “greatly improved, ” his headaches were gone, and he was non-concerned about his health (Tr. 265-67). The claimant reported pain in ...


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