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Legan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 30, 2017

PATSY LYN LEGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHON T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         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 disability insurance 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 17-31). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 4-6). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         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 September 25, 2013, the alleged disability onset date. (TR. 19). At step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Legan had the following severe impairments: degenerative disk disease, schizoaffective disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder without agoraphobia. (TR. 19). 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. 20).

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

[P]erform a reduced range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, the claimant can lift, carry, push or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8 hour work day and sit 6 hours in an 8 hour work day. She can understand, remember and carry out simple and some complex instructions, such as those in semi-skilled work, can relate to co-workers and supervisors on a superficial work-related basis, and can have only occasional public interaction.

(TR. 21). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work and proceeded to step five. (TR. 29).

         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. 53). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). (TR. 53). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Legan was not disabled based on her ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 30-31).

         III. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges a lack of substantial evidence to support the mental and physical RFC.

         IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         V. MENTAL RFC

         At step four, the ALJ stated that Ms. Legan had the mental RFC to “understand, remember and carry out simple and some complex instructions, such as those in semiskilled work, [could] relate to co-workers and supervisors on a superficial work-related basis, and [could] have only occasional public interaction.” (TR. 21). The ALJ based this finding on opinions from two state agency psychologists, Dr. Stephen Scott and Dr. Mary Rolison, whom he accorded “great weight.” (TR. 28). Drs. Scott and Rolison reviewed Plaintiff's file at the initial and reconsideration levels of her application for benefits on July 17, 2014 and October 22, 2014, respectively. (TR. 61-62, 65-66, 74-76, 79-81). Together, the psychologists found that Ms. Legan could:

• understand, remember, and carry out simple and some complex instructions with routine supervision,
• relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial ...

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