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Green v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 30, 2019




         Plaintiff John Chance Green (the “Claimant”) requests judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant's 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 finding of this Court that the Commissioner's decision should be and is 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 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a limited education and worked in the past as a forklift driver and a semi-truck driver. Claimant alleges an inability to work beginning on October 2, 2012, due to limitations resulting from right knee injury, right knee arthritis, gout, back problems, migraine headaches, left eye amblyopia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

         Procedural History

         On October 5, 2012, Claimant protectively 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. On September 9, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge(“ALJ”) entered an unfavorable decision. Claimant appealed the matter, and the case was remanded by United States Magistrate Judge Steven P. Shreder on March 22, 2017. However, on September 23, 2015, Claimant protectively filed another application for a period of disability and for disability insurance benefits. He was granted a closed period of disability from September 10, 2014 through March 17, 2016, by another ALJ on October 18, 2016. On July 17, 2017, the Appeals Council remanded the case pursuant to the district court's order. In its remand order, the Appeals Council referenced the October 18, 2016 favorable decision wherein Claimant was found disabled for a closed period, and noted the decision continued to be binding unless the ALJ on remand determined the conditions for reopening were met. It ordered the ALJ to offer Claimant the opportunity for a new hearing, take any necessary action for completion of the record, and issue a new decision. (Tr. 942-43). ALJ James Bentley conducted a hearing in McAlester, Oklahoma, on December 21, 2017, at which Claimant appeared and testified. On March 28, 2018, the ALJ entered a decision wherein he reopened the decision awarding Claimant benefits for a closed period of disability, considered the entire period from Claimant's first date of eligibility, and determined Claimant was not disabled. 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 light work, with limitations.

         Errors Alleged for Review

         Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error by (1) failing to properly consider the opinion of his treating physician Dr. Don Barney, D.O.; and (2) failing to consider his strong work history in the evaluation of symptoms.

         Evaluation of ...

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