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Lang v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 26, 2017

AMANDA G. LANG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Amanda G. Lang, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision finding she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 12], 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.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 16, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 89. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 125, 149. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated October 24, 2014. AR 86-100. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         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 evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 2, 2011, her alleged onset date. AR 91.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of status post traumatic brain injury, a mood disorder, and a cognitive disorder. AR 91.[2] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiffs impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 92-93.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiffs residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: She is limited to simple tasks; only superficial contact with supervisors and co-workers; and no interaction with the general public. She can adapt to a low stress work environment that does not involve high production standards or require rapid mental processing.

AR 93-96. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 96. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform- hand packer and laundry sorter. AR 96-97. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 97.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to develop the record regarding Plaintiffs mental impairments. Pl.'sBr. [Doc. No. 16], 5-12.[3] She also argues the ALJ improperly ignored probative medical evidence contradicting his findings. Id. at 12-15.

         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 as a whole 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 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). The court "meticulously examine[s] 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." 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 ...


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