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Western v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 25, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Rebecca A. Western, 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. 17], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[2] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On October 5, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 11. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 81, 83. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated October 7, 2014. AR 7-28. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-4. 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 during the period between her alleged onset date, August 26, 2010, and her date last insured, December 31, 2013. AR 13.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the back, right shoulder disorder, congestive heart failure, sleep apnea, and obesity. AR 13-18.[3] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 18-19.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that she cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can stand/walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can only occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl or stoop. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and cannot balance. She can occasionally climb stairs and ramps. She cannot perform overhead reaching with her right upper extremity. She can frequently reach, handle, finger and feel with her left and right upper extremities.

AR 19-22. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a doctor's office receptionist. AR 22. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 22.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred with regard to the credibility analysis, failed to analyze evidence relating to medical conditions or consider the resulting limitations thereof, and did not properly evaluate the RFC.

         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 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).

         V. Analysis

         A. The ALJ Erred in Her ...

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