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Dodson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 13, 2017

JIMMY DODSON, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Jimmy Dodson, Jr., seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of disability insurance benefits (DIB). This matter has been referred by Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), 636(b)(3). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB. See Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 10], 20. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 85, 102. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated May 18, 2016. AR 17-37. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 9, 2014. AR 22.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of dysfunction-major joints, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, degenerative joint disease, bilateral plantar faciitis with bone spurs, prediabetic, hyperlipidemia, and sleep apnea. AR 22-25.[1] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 25-28.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform medium exertion work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and [Plaintiff] has the mental ability to perform simple tasks, such as unskilled entry level jobs that require only a simple demonstration, i.e., SVP 1 jobs, and unskilled entry level jobs . . . that can be learned in 30 days or less, i.e., SVP 2 jobs with routine supervision; [Plaintiff] can relate to supervisors and peers on a superficial work basis, i.e. brief, succinct, cursory, concise communication relevant to the task being performed; [Plaintiff] can adapt to a work situation; but [Plaintiff] cannot relate to the general public.

AR 28-31. The ALJ made no finding as to whether Plaintiff could perform past relevant work. AR 31. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-hospital housekeeper, kitchen helper/dishwasher, dining room attendant, office helper, silver wrapper, laundry worker, table worker, printed circuit board assembly, and escort vehicle driver. AR 31-33. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 33.

         III. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 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) (quotation 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations 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 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) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IV. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ should have reopened a prior claim for DIB made by Plaintiff. Further, he argues that the ALJ improperly considered the disability determination from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and also failed to consider his irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a severe impairment at Step Two of the analysis.[2] The Court is without jurisdiction to reopen the prior claim and the ALJ did not err with ...

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