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Raymond v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 15, 2017

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


          T. Lane Wilson United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Juaria Jamelle Raymond seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and 1382c(a)(3). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. 10). Any appeal of this decision will be directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.


         On appeal, plaintiff raises seven points of error.[2] Plaintiff's first argument addresses step three: that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by finding that she does not meet Listing 1.04(A). (Dkt. 14). Plaintiff's next four allegations of error address how the ALJ handled plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”): (1) that the ALJ failed to include limitations for all of her severe impairments in the RFC findings; (2) that the ALJ “had a duty to develop the record on the diagnosis of fibromyalgia”; (3) that the ALJ failed to include “pertinent limitations” from her treating physicians when formulating her RFC; and (4) that the ALJ should have found her disabled under a Grid Rule 201.14 when she turned 50 years old. Id. Plaintiff's final two arguments address step five errors: (1) that the vocational expert's testimony is insufficient, in this case, to qualify as substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision; and (2) that the jobs identified by the vocational expert “do not conform with the RFC given, ” therefore the Commissioner's step five burden is unsatisfied. Id.


         In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See id. The Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).


         Step Three - Listing 1.04(A)

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by finding that she does not meet the criteria for Listing 1.04(A). (Dkt. 14). The Commissioner argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's step three finding, because plaintiff did not “meet all of the specified medical criteria.” (Dkt. 15) (quoting Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original)).

         Plaintiff's specific contention is that she “meets Listing 1.04(A) on both the cervical and lumbar spine, ” relying on records from Don L. Hawkins, M.D., Martin L. Martucci, M.D., and consultative examiner Seth Nodine, M.D. (Dkt. 14). Regarding her cervical spine, plaintiff claims that Dr. Hawkins “noted disc herniation at ¶ 4-5 and C5-6 with fairly severe foraminal stenosis at both levels, ” and that he “discusses the additional herniation of the disc with nerve compression and irritation with a gradual worsening over the years to the point it is visible on the MRI.” Id. Regarding her lumbar spine, plaintiff argues that Dr. Nodine was the “only doctor to really evaluate [her] back, ” noting an absence of deep tendon reflexes on the right side, right side positive straight leg raise testing, and decreased range of motion. Id. She further claims that “[m]edical records from her primary care physician indicate[ ] complaints of numbness and pain in [her] legs.” Id.

         This Court's practice, in line with that of the Tenth Circuit, is “to take a lower tribunal at its word when it declares that it has considered a matter.” Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1173. The Court finds no reason to deviate from this practice here. The ALJ thoroughly discussed plaintiff's medical records throughout the decision, and clearly explained his reasoning for the weight afforded to each opinion. (R. 21-30). Specific to this argument, the ALJ stated that he considered plaintiff's impairments under Listing sections 1.00, et seq. (Musculoskeletal System) and 12.00, et seq. (Mental Disorders), and he concluded that “[d]espite [plaintiff's] combined impairments, the medical evidence does not document listing-level severity, and no acceptable medical source has mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listed impairment, individually or in combination.” (R. 24).

         The requirements of Listing 1.04(A) are:

1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including cauda equina) or the spinal cord,
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the ...

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