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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 20, 2017

ZOE L. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Zoe L. Williams, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision finding she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 13], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On March 27, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 18. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 108, 121. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated October 15, 2015. AR 15-33. 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. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 27, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. AR 20.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, lumbar spine; osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees; obesity; major depressive disorder; and posttraumatic stress disorder. AR 20. 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 20-22.

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

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can frequently crouch and occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, and crawl. Furthermore, she is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements and involving only simple, work-related decisions; with few, if any, workplace changes; and only occasional contact with supervisors and coworkers and no more than incidental contact with the general public.

         AR 22-26. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 26. 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-patch worker, air purifier, and slagger. AR 27. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 28.

         III. Issue Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff presents one issue for review. She contends the ALJ failed to develop the record adequately by not ordering a consultative mental examination. As illustrated below, the ALJ did not commit reversible error.

         IV. 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 ...

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