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Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

August 30, 2017

JACKIE DARLENE WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S APPEAL

          Gerald B. Cohn, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for decision. Plaintiff Jackie Darlene Wilson (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's decision finding of not disabled. As set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's appeal and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision in this case.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To receive disability or supplemental security benefits under the Social Security Act (“Act”), a claimant bears the burden to demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         The Act further provides that an individual:

shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Plaintiff must demonstrate the physical or mental impairment “by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         Social Security regulations implement a five-step sequential process to evaluate a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (setting forth the five steps in detail). “If a determination can be made at any of the steps that a plaintiff is or is not disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not necessary.” Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1064 at n.1. (10th Cir. 2013). If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner must show at step five that jobs exist in the national economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age, education, and work experience can perform. Id.

         In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“court shall review only the question of conformity with such regulations and the validity of such regulations”); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See id. Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the [Administrative Law Judge's] findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         In March 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 13, Tr. 147-53). She claimed she became disabled on March 24, 2014, due to back, neck, and knee problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, sleep apnea, and anxiety. (Tr. 181). Following a hearing in December 2015 (Tr. 34-65), an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), in a decision dated February 18, 2016, concluded Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 17-29). At the time of that decision, Plaintiff was 60 years old. (Tr. 160), and she possessed a high school (and some vocational) education. (Tr. 182). The Appeals Council declined review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5). This appeal followed.

         III. ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges the following error: The ALJ's findings at step four of the sequential evaluation process were legally flawed and not supported by substantial evidence. (Pl. Br. at 4, Doc. 16).

         A. ALJ's Step Four Evaluation of Plaintiff's Past Work

         Plaintiff states the ALJ erred by finding her capable of returning to past composite work as actually or generally performed. (Pl. Br. at 4-5). In the decision, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's severe impairments and residual functional capacity (“RFC”), prior to evaluating whether she could perform past work.

The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, lumbar spine impairment, cervical spine impairment, hand pain status post carpal tunnel surgery 20 years ago, and ...

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