United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
James Edward Murray 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, id. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
Judge. Doc. No. 18. Upon review of the administrative record
(Doc. No. 11, 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on August
27, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of August 15,
2010, and alleging disability based on major depression,
anxiety, social anxiety and isolation, and various physical
conditions. R. 174-79, 180-83, 212-14, 302. Following denial
of Plaintiff's applications initially and on
reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing. R. 75-124. The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision on September 11, 2013. R. 56-67. The
SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-6; see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. This action for
judicial review followed.
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); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 1520(a)(4),
416.920, 920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August
15, 2010, the alleged onset date. R. 58; see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571, 416.971. At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of:
acquired hypothyroidism; high blood pressure, well
controlled; obesity; and depression. R. 58-59; see
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
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. 59-60; see 20 C.F.R. §§
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of his impairments. R.
60-65; see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work subject to
the additional limitations that Plaintiff could:
sit for 6 hours; stand/walk for 2 hours; [have] no
concentrated exposure to extreme heat; perform simple and
some complex tasks with routine supervision; [have] no public
contact; [perform] no customer service; . . . interact
appropriately with supervisors and co-workers for superficial
work purposes; and . . . adapt to work situations.
R. 60; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a)
(defining “sedentary work”), 416.967(a) (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. 65; see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, .1568, 416.965, .968.
five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in
view of his 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 sedentary occupational base caused by
Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff could perform occupations such as tube
operator, document preparer, and addresser, all of which
offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. R. 66; see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(5)(ii), 416.945(a)(5)(ii). On this basis, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from August 15, 2010,
through the date of the decision. R. 66; see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
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 presents two issues on appeal: (1) whether the
ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
evidence and is adequately explained, and (2) whether the ALJ
failed to properly weigh Plaintiff's credibility.
See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 13) at 6, 16-20, 21-24.
As to both issues, Plaintiff addresses evidence and testimony
related to his mental impairments and not his physical
Whether the ALJ Properly Weighed Plaintiff's
asserts that the ALJ's credibility analysis was legally
flawed and the result unsupported by substantial evidence.
Pl.'s Br. at 21-24. Notably, at the time of the ALJ's
decision, assessment of a claimant's subjective
complaints was governed by Social Security Ruling 96-7p, but
on March 16, 2016, the Commissioner adopted a superseding
Ruling-Social Security Ruling 16-3p-that eliminated use of
the term “credibility” and provided new guidance
for evaluating the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of a claimant's symptoms. See SSR 16-3p,
2016 WL 1119029 (eff. Mar. 28, 2016). Without foreclosing the
possibility that a proper ...