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Cheater v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 13, 2019




         Plaintiff Russell W. Cheater (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Claimant appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly determined that Claimant was not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, it is the recommendation of the undersigned that the Commissioner's decision 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 his physical or mental 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. . .” 42 U.S.C. § 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.[1]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence” has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require “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)). The court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court must review the record as a whole, and the “substantiality of the 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

         Claimant was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ's latest decision. Claimant completed high school. He has worked in the past as a forklift operator. He alleges an inability to work beginning May 1, 2008, due to limitations from heart problems, breathing problems, chest pains, chronic headaches, depression, anxiety, and problems concentrating.

         Procedural History

         On May 20, 2009, Claimant filed for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the Social Security Act. Claimant's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing, an ALJ issued a decision denying benefits to Claimant on January 6, 2011. The Appeals Council denied review, and Claimant appealed the denial of benefits to this Court. On September 26, 2013, the case was remanded. A second hearing was held, and on October 3, 2014, another ALJ issued a decision denying benefits to Claimant. Claimant again appealed the ALJ's decision, and the case was remanded for a second time on April 7, 2016. On September 14, 2017, Administrative Law Judge(“ALJ”) Luke Liter conducted an administrative hearing by video. Claimant appeared in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the ALJ presided from Tulsa, Oklahoma. On November 1, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. The decision of the ALJ represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step five of the sequential evaluation. He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe impairments, he did not meet a listing and retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error by (1) failing to find Claimant's impairments met or equaled a listing; (2) failing to reach a proper RFC determination (with subparts to the issue); and (3) failing to make findings at step five which are supported by the evidence.

         Consideration of a Listing

         In his decision, the ALJ found Claimant suffered from severe impairments of obesity, hypertension, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, angina, and cardiomyopathy. (Tr. 865). He determined Claimant had the RFC to perform sedentary work with additional limitations. In so doing, the ALJ found Claimant was able to lift or carry and push or pull ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. He had no limitations for sitting during an eight-hour day, but he could only stand or walk a combined total of two hours out of an eight-hour day, and only for ten to thirty minutes at one time. Claimant could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but he was to avoid climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl. Claimant could not tolerate exposure to hazards, including unprotected heights, sharp objects, or dangerous moving machinery. He also was to avoid exposure to humidity, wetness, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, pulmonary irritants, and exposure to temperature extremes (both hot and cold). (Tr. 868).

         After consultation with a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined Claimant could perform the representative jobs of document preparer, food and beverage order clerk, and clerical mailer, all of which were found to exist in sufficient numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 877, 924-26). As a result, the ALJ concluded Claimant was not ...

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