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Bratten v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 16, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant. [[1]]



         Plaintiff Cristy Bratten seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). This matter was referred by United States District Judge Stephen P. Friot for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging disability beginning August 1, 2009. Administrative Record (AR), [Doc. No. 12], 245-253. After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her applications initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Administrative Law Judge Howard O'Bryan, Jr. held a hearing on February 6, 2012, AR 49-65, and thereafter issued an unfavorable decision. On appeal, the Social Security Appeals Council remanded the case and directed the subsequent ALJ to obtain evidence from a vocational expert (VE) to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base. AR 9. Administrative Law Judge Kim D. Parrish held a second hearing on May 20, 2014, AR 27-38, and issued an unfavorable decision on August 11, 2014. AR 9-19. The Social Security Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-3. Thus, the ALJ's decision dated August 11, 2014, became the final decision of the Commissioner and is the subject of this judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluations process); see also 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520; 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. AR 11.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has two severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder and adjustment disorder. Id.

         At step three, after a thorough discussion of the evidence, the ALJ found that neither of Plaintiff's severe impairments meets or medically equals any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 15.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC):

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: work in relative isolation; limited contact with coworkers and general public; routine rep [sic] work not involving detailed instructions; and changes in work place not to exceed 10% in frequency.

         AR 16.

         At step four, the ALJ found claimant could not perform her past relevant work as cashier II, fast food worker or convenience store worker. AR 18. At step five, based on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy including floor waxer, window cleaner and housekeeper. AR 19. Thus, at step five of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is not disabled.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in assessing her RFC. Pl.'s Brief, [Doc. No. 14], 6-13. Plaintiff further contends the ALJ erred at step two in failing to find obesity, diabetes and headaches to be severe physical impairments. Pl.'s Brief, 13-17. Finally, Plaintiff contends the ALJ improperly “cherry-picked” a third-party function report as well as Plaintiff's own function report, and erred by citing only the portions of those reports supportive of a finding of nondisability.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if other evidence in the record overwhelms it, or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it. Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable ...

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