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Jacobs v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 30, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Crystal G. Jacobs brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 8, hereinafter “R. ”), and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her SSI application on May 21, 2012, alleging disability due to several physical conditions. R. 198, 241, 245. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on September 3, 2014. R. 7-30. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 31, 36-55. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 12, 2015. R. 10-24.

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 21, 2012. R. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome by history, and obesity. R. 12-20. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). R. 20.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 20-23. The ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday. [She] can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] can frequently handle and finger.

         R. 20.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's RFC allowed her to perform her past relevant work of Cashier (Box Office Attendant). R. 23. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 24.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-4; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While the court considers whether the Commissioner followed 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).


         In this action, Plaintiff argues that remand is required because (i) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's cervical-spine impairment and resulting limitations, and (ii) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff could return to her past relevant work. S ...

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