Streeter v. Social Security Administration
OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Frank H McCarthy (Affirming the Commissioner's decision) (tjc, Dpty Clk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
Case No. 15-CV-438-FHM
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,1
Acting Commissioner, Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Nicole Streeter, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.2
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before
a United States Magistrate Judge.
Standard of Review
The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial
evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied.
See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v.
Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs.,
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d)(1), Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Administration, is substituted as the defendant in this action. No further action need be taken to continue
this suit by reason of the last sentence of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff's November 8, 2012, application for disability benefits was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Plaintiff waived her right to personally appear and testify at a hearing. By decision dated
January 31, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John W. Belcher entered the findings that are the subject
of this appeal. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on July 22, 2015. The decision of
the Appeals Council represents the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of further appeal. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481.
26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less
than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d
799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s decision stands. Hamilton v.
Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).
Plaintiff was 39 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 41 on the date
of the ALJ’s denial decision She is a high school graduate with some college education.
Plaintiff formerly worked as packer/sorter, boys monitor, and residential counselor. She
claims to have been unable to work since July 29, 2011 as a result of hypertension, a
history of cervical, thoracic and lumbar strains, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily in writing waived her right to
personally appear and testify at a hearing.
The ALJ submitted interrogatories to a
vocational expert. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), with the
limitation of being limited to simple, routine tasks involving no more than superficial contact
with coworkers and supervisors and no contact with the public. In addition, she must avoid
unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. Although Plaintiff is unable to perform her
past relevant work, based on the answers to interrogatories by the vocational expert, the
ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform with these limitations. The case was thus decided at step five of the
five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams
v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se before this court.
Plaintiff filed a document on
September 8, 2016, [Dkt. 18], wherein she refers to Exhibit 8F, which is the report of a
mental status examination performed by Brian R. Snider, Ph.D., psychologist on April 26,
2013. [R. 325-328]. Dr. Snider concluded, as follows:
Ms. Streeter would probably have little difficulty understanding
and carrying out simple instructions and would likely have
moderate to marked difficulty with complex and detailed
instructions. She is likely to have marked to severe difficulty
concentrating and persisting through a normal work day due to
psychiatric symptoms. Her ability to maintain a normal
workday and work week without interruptions from her
psychiatric symptoms is likely markedly to severely impaired.
In all likelihood, she would have moderate difficulty responding
appropriately to coworkers and supervisors. Ms. Streeter
appears capable of managing her own funds responsibly.
[R. 327-328]. Dr. Snider recommended that Plaintiff should receive outpatient psychiatric
care from a community mental health center including medication, psychotherapy, and case
management. He further opined that with appropriate and consistent psychiatric care her
psychiatric symptoms were expected to improve. [R. 328]. Construing Plaintiff’s pro se
submission liberally, the court reads Plaintiff’s submission as challenging the ALJ’s RFC
finding as being unsupported by substantial evidence because the ALJ arguably found
Plaintiff to be more capable than Dr. Snider found her to be.
The existence of evidence that may also support findings contrary to the ALJ’s
decision does not deprive the ALJ’s finding of support by substantial evidence. The court
may not reweigh the evidence and displace the agency’s choice between two fairly
conflicting views. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). On appeal, the
court reviews only the sufficiency of the evidence, not its weight. Oldham v. Astrue, 509
F.3d 1254, 1257-1258 (10th Cir. 2007). The statute governing judicial review of Social
Security disability rulings specifies that the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The term
“substantial evidence” does not mean undisputed or unequivocal. Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. In the context of Social Security disability decisions, substantial evidence
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084.
“Evidence is insubstantial if it is overwhelmingly contradicted by other evidence.” O’Dell
v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (10th Cir. 1994). In other words, a decision is supported by
substantial evidence unless the contrary evidence is so overwhelming that a conclusion
different than the one made by the ALJ is compelled by that contrary evidence. The court
finds that Dr. Snider’s opinion does not compel a conclusion different from the ALJ’s
The ALJ accurately summarized Dr. Snider’s report and his conclusion. [R. 23]. The
ALJ stated he gave Dr. Snider’s evaluation some weight. He noted Dr. Snider saw Plaintiff
on one occasion and that some of Dr. Snider’s conclusions were consistent with the finding
by Plaintiff’s mental health providers, Green Country Free Clinic and Grand Lake Mental
Health Center. However, the ALJ stated that the opinion that Plaintiff would have difficulty
concentrating and persisting through a normal workday appears to be based on Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints and are not supported by the findings outlined by her mental health
providers. [R. 23]. Further, the ALJ observed that Plaintiff’s allegations regarding the
frequency of alleged panic attacks are not supported by those clinic records. Id.
Plaintiff’s mental health care providers noted she reported improvement on
medication even though she was not entirely compliant with medication and failed to show
up for scheduled medication training and support services. [R. 336-338]. No side effects
from those medications were documented. The ALJ noted that the records reflect Plaintiff
requested a letter from the psychiatrist stating she was unable to work. The record
contains a letter from her therapist stating that she is a patient who receives medication
management, nursing care, and therapy. [R. 387]. Plaintiff’s records were evaluated by
a Disability Determination Service (DDS) psychologist, Ron Cummings, Ph.D., who
reviewed Plaintiff’s medical records, including the evaluation by Dr. Snider, and found that
Plaintiff could perform simple work with superficial contact with others and no public
contact. [R. 56-57]. In making the RFC finding, Dr. Cummings noted that Dr. Snider’s
comment about Plaintiff’s ability to maintain pace was made at one point in time and was
not consistent with the rest of the information in her file. [R. 52].
The court finds that the ALJ adequately explained the reasons for the weight he
gave Dr. Snider’s opinion. The court further finds that the ALJ’s explanation and RFC
findings are supported by substantial evidence. There is, therefore, no basis for remanding
The court finds that the ALJ evaluated the record in accordance with the legal
standards established by the Commissioner and the courts. The court further finds there
is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, the
decision of the Commissioner finding Plaintiff not disabled is AFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED this 16th day of February, 2017.
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