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Warden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 1, 2017

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



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. Defendant has answered the Complaint and filed the administrative record (hereinafter AR ___), and the parties have briefed the issues. The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the following reasons, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Administrative History and Agency Decision

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits in February 2014, alleging that she became disabled beginning August 1, 2007. (AR 209-10). She later amended her alleged disability onset date to April 15, 2011. (AR 45, 226). Plaintiff identified numerous physical and mental conditions as disabling impairments, including back surgery, breast cancer, chronic lymphedema, post-traumatic stress syndrome (“PTSD”), depression, anxiety, neuropathy, leg and foot pain, severe spinal stenosis, arthritis, and joint pain. (AR 243, 277). Plaintiff has a high school education, and she previously worked as a security guard.

         Plaintiff filed a previous application for disability benefits that was denied on June 25, 2013. (AR 97). Based on her earnings record, the agency determined that Plaintiff was last insured for disability insurance benefits on December 31, 2013. (AR 101). Therefore, Plaintiff was required to demonstrate that she was disabled on or before that date. Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010); Potter v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 905 F.2d 1346, 1349 (10th Cir. 1990)(per curiam); accord, Adams v. Chater, 93 F.2d 712, 714 (10th Cir. 1996); Henrie v. United States Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 13 F.3d 359, 360 (10th Cir. 1993).

         Plaintiff appeared with her representative and testified at an administrative hearing conducted on February 16, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Hamilton (“ALJ”). A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing.

         The ALJ issued a decision in which the ALJ found no basis for reopening Plaintiff's prior disability insurance benefits application. (AR 12). Applying res judicata principles, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not be found disabled prior to June 27, 2013, the day following the administrative denial of her previous application. (AR 12). Due to the expiration of her insured status, the ALJ found that Plaintiff must demonstrate disability on or before December 31, 2013. (AR 13, 15).

         Following the agency's five-step sequential evaluation procedure, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ determined that through the date Plaintiff was last insured for benefits she had severe impairments due to obesity, lymphedema, 2013 lumbar laminectomy, post cervical fusion, anxiety, depression, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”). (AR 15).

         The ALJ determined at the next step that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1 through the date she was last insured.

         The ALJ next determined that through the date she was last insured Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work except she can no more than frequently perform bilateral fingering and feeling, she can have no more than occasional exposure to environmental irritants such as odors, fumes, dust, and gases, and her work must be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public, with no production rate pace. (AR 25).

         Based on this RFC finding and Plaintiff's and the VE's testimony regarding the requirements of Plaintiff's previous work, the ALJ determined that the demands of Plaintiff's previous security guard position exceeded her RFC for work and she was therefore unable to perform her past relevant work.

         Reaching the fifth and final step of the required sequential analysis, the ALJ found that through the date she was last insured for benefits Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in the national economy, including the jobs of document preparer, surveillance system monitor, and addressor. Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any time from June 27, 2013, through December 31, 2013.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the ALJ's decision represents the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §404.981; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).

         II. I ...

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