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Wilkins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

August 21, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          FRANK H. MCCARTHY, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Bonnie Sue Wilkins, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the decision contains a sufficient basis to determine that the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 20');">91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 993 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).


         Plaintiff was 48 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 53 years old on the date of the denial decision. She completed the 10th grade and received her General Education Diploma (GED). Plaintiff's past work experience includes CNA, housekeeper, concessions worker, and institutional cook. [R. 20, 78-79]. Plaintiff claims to have been unable to work since January 1, 2010 due to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, high blood pressure, severe migraines, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. [R. 88-89, 209-18');">18');">18');">18, 233].

         The ALJ's Decision

          The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's severe impairments include diabetes mellitus; mild osteoarthritis; degenerative joint disease of right knee, status-post right knee arthroscopy; hypertension; depression; dysthymia; and anxiety. [R. 13]. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light exertional work.[2] Plaintiff cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can frequently balance, occasionally bend, stoop, crouch, and kneel, but cannot crawl. Plaintiff is limited to simple, unskilled work, and can only have infrequent contact with the general public. [R. 15]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work but found based on the testimony of the vocational expert, there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [R. 251, 253]. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. The case was thus decided at step five of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

          Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ: 1) failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence; and 2) the residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment pertaining to standing and walking was not supported by substantial evidence. [Dkt. 18');">18');">18');">18, p. 6].


         Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his analysis of the opinion of state agency non- examining psychologist, Dr. SDS[3], restricting Plaintiff to superficial coworker interaction. Plaintiff also argues the ALJ disregarded the limitation of the number of coworkers Plaintiff may interact with. Further, because the vocational expert was not given an opportunity to address the effect a limited amount of coworker interaction would have on the jobs relied upon to deny Plaintiff benefits, the error is not harmless. [Dkt. 18');">18');">18');">18, p. 11].

         On November 13, 2013, at the reconsideration level, Dr. SDS opined that Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry out simple and some complex instructions with routine supervision; could relate to supervision and a limited number of coworkers on a superficial work basis; a moderate limitation in relating to the general public; and can adapt to a work environment. [R. 130-36]. The ALJ stated he gave “great” weight to the opinion of Dr. SDS to the extent Plaintiff was capable of performing simple work tasks with limited public contact. The ALJ determined, however, that the ...

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