United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Christopher Bradley Hallman seeks judicial review of the
Social Security Administration's denial of supplemental
security insurance (SSI). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), the parties have consented to the exercise of
jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate
Judge. The Commissioner has answered and filed the
Administrative Record, and both parties have briefed their
respective positions. For the reasons stated below, the Court
reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the
matter for further proceedings.
received SSI based on childhood disability until he turned
eighteen years old. Administrative Record (AR), [Doc. No.
11], 11. At that time, Plaintiff was re-evaluated for
disability under the rules for determining disability in
adults. Id. On March 21, 2013, the State Agency
determined on initial review that Plaintiff was no longer
disabled as of March 14, 2013. Id. The initial
decision was upheld on reconsideration. Id.
Plaintiff's request, an administrative law judge (ALJ)
held a video hearing on June 25, 2014. AR 33-69. Plaintiff
represented himself at the hearing. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on November 25, 2014, AR 11-25. On
appeal, the Social Security Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-5. Thus, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner and is the subject of this judicial review.
The ALJ's Decision
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
evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had never engaged
in substantial gainful activity. AR 13.
two, the ALJ listed Plaintiff's severe impairments: pes
planus; left leg instability due to prior injury;
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); intermittent
explosive disorder; depressive disorder; and learning
disorder. Id. Additionally, the ALJ found a history
of asthma, eczema and seizures but determined these
conditions were not severe because Plaintiff had had no
recent exacerbations of asthma, had no skin rash or lesions,
and was not taking medication for seizures. Id.
three, the ALJ found none of Plaintiff's impairments
meets or medically equals any of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. AR 13-14. The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's pes planus and
left leg instability under Listing 1.02 A, his GERD under
Listing 5.00, and his mental disorders under Listings 12.02,
12.04, 12.06 and 12.08. AR 14.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's residual functional
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that since March 14, 2013, the claimant has
had the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 10
pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. The
claimant can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour
workday and can stand and walk for at least 2 hours during an
eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is to
avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, odors,
and poor ventilation, and hazards such as unprotected heights
and heavy machinery. The claimant can understand, remember,
and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks. The
claimant can respond appropriately to supervisors,
co-workers, and usual work situations, but have no contact
with the general public.
five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert
(VE) in determining Plaintiff can perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy including small
parts assembler, hand cutter, and cuff folder. AR 24. Thus,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled at step five of the
sequential evaluation process.
Standard of Review
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 rules
of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability
cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute
its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v.
Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations
and citations omitted).
Issues Presented for Judicial Review
challenges the ALJ's RFC formulation, contending it does
not precisely reflect Plaintiff's mental limitations from
intermittent explosive disorder or his physical limitations
from pes planus. Plaintiff further contends the ALJ erred in
failing to consider Plaintiff's obesity in combination
with other disorders.
challenge to the ALJ's mental RFC is dispositive and
requires reversal and remand. The ALJ's conclusion that
Plaintiff has the ability to “respond appropriately to
supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations, ”
despite his mental impairments consisting in part of
intermittent explosive disorder, is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The two
opinions in the record supporting the ALJ's mental RFC
are from non-examining, State agency medical sources who
based their opinions on limited medical evidence. Their
opinions regarding the severity of Plaintiff's mental
impairments do not constitute substantial evidence to support
the ALJ's decision because they are overwhelmed by
evidence to the contrary.
this error requires reversal and remand, the Court need not
consider the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's physical
impairments, his failure to consider Plaintiff's obesity,
or his determination ...