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Bradley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 28, 2017

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



         Plaintiff 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 denying Plaintiff's application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner has answered and filed a transcript of the administrative record (hereinafter TR.). The parties have consented to jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         The parties have briefed their positions, and the matter is now at issue. Based on the Court's review of the record and the issues presented, the Court REVERSES AND REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further administrative development.


         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 149-165). The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded for further administrative findings. (TR. 176-177). Following two more administrative hearings, the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision. (TR. 19-35). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.


         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2012, the alleged disability onset date. (TR. 21). At step two, the ALJ determined Mr. Bradley had the following severe impairments:

osteoarthritis primarily affecting the cervical and lumbar spine, as well as the right knee, wrist, and hand; shoulder tendonitis and bursitis; asthma and chronic bronchitis; status-post traumatic brain injury; PTSD; sleep apnea; major depressive disorder; and obesity.

(TR. 21). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (TR. 22).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Bradley retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except the claimant is able to occasionally switch between sitting and standing at the work station without a loss of productivity; occasionally push/pull with the upper and lower extremities; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch but never crawl. He has no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations, but must not work at unprotected heights, around dangerous moving equipment or machinery, or on uneven or unstable work surfaces. He must not work around dust, fumes, odors, extremes of temperature, or other respiratory irritants. The claimant can understand, remember comprehend, and carry out simple instructions and tasks; can work with co-workers and supervisors on a superficial work basis; can adapt to routine work changes in the work environment; but cannot work with the general public on more than a superficial or ancillary basis.

(TR. 24). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not capable of performing his past relevant work and proceeded to step five. (TR. 33).

         At step five, the ALJ presented several limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 89). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). (TR. 90). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Mr. Bradley was not disabled based on his ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 34-35).


         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred: (1) by failing to include certain physical limitations in the RFC, (2) by failing to include certain mental limitations in the RFC, and (3) by failing to consider the effects of various impairments and Plaintiff's medications.


         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final “decision to determin[e] whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court will “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.” Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201 (10th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).


         The RFC allowed for “no manipulative limitations, ” but Mr. Bradley contends that evidence exists which would “mandate at a minimum an occasional limitation on handling with his dominant right hand.” (ECF No. 23:6). The Court agrees.

         A. Evidence Concerning Plaintiff's Ability to “Handle”

         The record contains four opinions regarding Plaintiff's ability to “handle.” Initially, and on reconsideration of Mr. Bradley's application for disability insurance benefits, two agency physicians concluded that Mr. Bradley had “some difficulty grasping firmly with [right] hand due to [osteoarthritis] and should avoid work situations with repetitive grasping.” (TR. 128, 141); see Social Security Ruling 85-15, Titles II and XVI: Capability to Do Other Work-The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for ...

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