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Ingle v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 11, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Teresa Ann Ingle 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 application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 9, hereinafter “R. ”), and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on January 22, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of May 2, 2012. R. 174-82, 200. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 18, 2014. R. 31-67. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 31-32, 36-66. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 12, 2014. R. 9-30.

         As relevant here, 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. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of May 2, 2012. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, and neuropathy. R. 14-18. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had multiple nonsevere impairments: left-arm numbness, bladder incontinence, obesity, gastroparesis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, migraines, hypertension, constipation, hypothyroidism, hypercholesterolemia, insomnia, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. R. 14-18. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 18-19.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 19-24. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC “to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), ” except that Plaintiff

can lift up to twenty pounds occasionally and lift and carry ten pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can stand and walk up to six hours and sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can frequently climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] can have occasional exposure to hazardous moving machinery, unprotected heights, and raw chemicals or solutions.

R. 19. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 24.

         At step 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. R. 24-25. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled light occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform light, unskilled occupations such as bakery worker, furniture-rental clerk, and photofinishing counter clerk, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 25. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 25.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.


         Judicial 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).


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate a medical opinion issued by her treating physician, Cheryl Black, MD, and this error rendered the RFC determination unsupported by ...

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