United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
KATHARINE S. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE IUDGE
Katharine S. Wright 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 Plaintiffs applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, and for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
Judge. Doc. No. 13. The Commissioner has answered and filed
the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter
“R.”).  The parties have briefed their positions
and the case is now ready for decision. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's
decision and remands the case for further proceedings.
protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on
November 26, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of
November 12, 2012. R. 192-204, 218-20. Following denial of
her applications initially and on reconsideration, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing.
R. 25-69, 70-132. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
November 10, 2014. R. 12-20. The SSA Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
R. 4-6; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial
relevant here, a person is “disabled” within the
meaning of the Social Security Act if he or she is
“unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since November 12, 2012, the
alleged onset date. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease; chronic low back pain; bipolar
disorder; panic disorder with agoraphobia; and history of
substance abuse. R. 14. At step three, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or equal any of the
presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 15-16.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her medically
determinable impairments. R. 16-18. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, except she must
“adhere to short and simple instructions” and
“work in relative isolation with no general public
contact, ” and she “can work in proximity of
others, but no teamwork activity.” R. 16; see
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) (defining
“light” work), 416.967(b) (same). At step four,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work and that transferability of job skills was not
a material issue. R. 19.
five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in
view of her age, education, work experience, and RFC-could
perform. Taking into consideration the hearing testimony of a
vocational expert regarding the degree of erosion to the
unskilled light occupational base that is caused by
Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff could perform occupations such as laundry
worker, mail sorter, and production-line solderer, all of
which offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. R. 19-20. On this basis, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, from November 12, 2012, through the
date of the decision. R. 20.
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 a
reviewing 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).
contends that the ALJ failed to perform a
function-by-function assessment and to fulfill his duty to
develop the record. Plaintiff further argues that
Plaintiff's mental RFC is not supported by substantial
evidence because the ALJ failed to adequately consider third
party statements, GAF scores, and medical opinions, and
because the ALJ failed to properly assess Plaintiff's
credibility. Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 16) at 6-16. The Court
finds that remand is required because the ALJ failed to
fulfill his duty to develop the record. Because this issue
alone warrants remand, the Court need not ...