United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Susan Gail Prince 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 Plaintiff's 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. 15. Upon review of the administrative record
(Doc. No. 13, hereinafter “R. ”), and the
arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court
reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the
matter for further proceedings.
protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on June
17, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of September 10,
2010, and alleging disability based on degenerative disc
disease, retinitis pigmentosa,  and arthritis. R. 124-35, 147-53,
154-57. Following denial of Plaintiff's applications
initially and on reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing. R. 25-52, 53-67, 70-75.
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 27, 2014.
R. 11-20. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-5; see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481. This action for judicial
relevant here, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine eligibility for disability
benefits. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th
Cir. 2009). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 10,
2010, the alleged onset date. R. 13. At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
chronic lumbago, degenerative disc disease, and obesity. R.
13-14. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
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. 14-15.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her impairments. R.
15-18. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work subject to additional limitations:
The claimant is able to lift and/or carry, and push and/or
pull, twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently.
She is able to stand and/or walk for six hours in an
eight-hour workday and sit six hours in an eight-hour
workday. The claimant is able to perform work requiring
occasional stooping. She is able to perform work requiring
frequent climbing of ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and
scaffolds. She is able to perform work requiring frequent
balancing, kneeling, crouching and crawling. The claimant is
afflicted with symptomatology from a variety of sources that
would include mild to moderate occasional chronic pain that
would be of sufficient severity as to be noticeable to her,
but nonetheless she is able to remain attentive and
responsive in a work setting. Appropriate use of her
medications does not preclude her from remaining reasonably
alert for required work functions.
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) (defining
“light work”), 416.967(b) (same). At step four,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform her past
relevant work as a medication technician as it was actually
performed. R. 18-19.
continued to step five and considered in the alternative
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 caused by Plaintiff's additional
limitations, the ALJ made the alternative findings that
Plaintiff could perform occupations such as laundry sorter,
mailroom clerk, and marker, all of which offer jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 19.
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
September 10, 2010, 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).
presents two broad challenges: (1) the ALJ's RFC
determination was legally flawed and not supported by
substantial evidence; and (2) the ALJ's credibility
analysis was legally flawed and not supported by substantial
evidence. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 20) at 12-24.
The Court finds the first claim of error persuasive and, for
the reasons set forth below, reverses and remands the
decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff's Vision Impairment
argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider her vision
problems. See Pl.'s Br. at 18-19. Plaintiff
applied for DIB and SSI on the basis of degenerative disc
disease, retinitis pigmentosa, and arthritis. R. 147. Plaintiff
reported the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa to the SSA
consultative examiners. See R. 218, 236. Plaintiff
also complained that her vision was worsening and that she
had difficulty reading. See R. 166, 218. At her SSA
interview, the interviewer noted that Plaintiff had
difficulties both reading and seeing, and consultative
examiner Dr. Brad Liston recorded her best corrected vision
as 20/50 bilaterally and in the right eye and 20/100 in the
left eye. R. 156, 218. The ALJ, however, did not discuss
Plaintiff's alleged vision impairment.
that Plaintiff's past relevant work requires reading and
frequent near visual acuity, and two of the three alternative
step-five jobs require frequent near visual acuity (with the
third requiring it occasionally), the ALJ's disregard of
this impairment requires reversal. See Washington v.
Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1438-40 (10th Cir. 1994)
(reversing when the ALJ mentioned plaintiff's vision loss
when summarizing the medical evidence but did not discuss how
that loss impacted plaintiff's ability to do work);
see also Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(4th rev. ed. 1991) §§ 355.374-014 (certified
medication technician), 1991 WL 672938; id.
361.687-014 (laundry sorter), 1991 WL 672991; id.
209.687-026 (mailroom clerk), 1991 WL 671813; id.
920.687-126 (marker), 1991 WL 687992. On remand, the ALJ
should consider Plaintiff's vision problems and whether
they affect the RFC evaluation and the related findings at
steps four and five.
Plaintiff's Back and Leg Pain
evidence of her back and leg pain, Plaintiff challenges the
ALJ's determination that Plaintiff could stand and/or
walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday. Pl.'s
Br. at 18. As noted by Plaintiff, the ALJ reviewed
Plaintiff's medical records and set forth specific
findings regarding the limitations caused by her back and leg
pain. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's review was
incomplete, however, because it “wholly overlooked or
dismissed without adequate explanation a considerable amount
of evidence that undermined the ALJ's reasons for his RFC
assessment and the conclusion that she could stand and/or
walk for six out of eight hours a day.” Pl.'s Br.
at 18. Relatedly, ...