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Palma v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 21, 2017

NATHAN PALMA, Plaintiff,
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 of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1382. Defendant has answered the Complaint and filed the administrative record (hereinafter TR), 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

         In his application, Plaintiff alleged that he was disabled beginning August 1, 2013, because of post-traumatic stress disorder; bipolar disorder; loss of vision in one eye with low vision in the other eye; diabetes; hypertension and chronic back pain. (TR 210). Plaintiff reported that he had completed two years of college and “lpn school.” (TR 211). He stated he had previously worked as a charge nurse and as an LPN. He reported nine previous employers between January 2004 and March 2013. (TR 217).

         Plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge Douglas S. Stults (“ALJ”) and testified at an administrative hearing held December 16, 2015. (TR 46-73). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified concerning his usual daily activities, symptoms, functional abilities, medications, and medical treatment. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 18, 2016. (TR 28-42). Plaintiff appealed, but the Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's decision. (TR 1-6). The ALJ's decision is, therefore, the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10thCir. 2009).

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         After determining that Plaintiff met the insured requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations to determine whether Plaintiff had been disabled at any time during the relevant period. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. §404.1520.

         At step one, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date, August 1, 2013. (TR 30). At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea; diabetes mellitus; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; obesity; right eye blindness; posttraumatic stress disorder; and bipolar disorder. (TR 30).

         The ALJ found at the third step of the sequential evaluation that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. (TR 33-36).

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform “medium work, ” as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c)[1], except that the claimant can only: occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, [crouch] and crawl; never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds; must avoid exposure to industrial type vibration; cannot perform jobs that require depth perception; must avoid exposure to workplace hazards, such as dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, and open flame; understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; make only simple work related decisions; deal with only occasional changes in work processes and environment; have no contact with the general public; have only incidental, superficial work-related type contact with co-workers and supervisors, i.e. brief, succinct, cursory, concise communication relevant to the task being performed; and cannot tolerate teamwork type jobs, i.e., where in the claimant would work in conjunction with a co-worker on any particular job task or duty.

(TR 36).

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work as a licensed practical nurse, and charge nurse, because he performed both of these jobs at a high skill level. (TR 40). Based on the testimony of the VE, however, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy such as hand launderer; night cleaner; order runner; meat molder; merchandise marker; routing clerk; addresser; tube operator; and document preparer. (TR 41). For each occupation, the VE identified a code from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, (G.P.O. 1991) (“DOT”) that allegedly corresponded with the job she had identified. The ALJ determined that the VE's testimony was “inconsistent with the information contained in the Dictionary ofOccupational Titles.” (TR 41). The ALJ did not elaborate on the ...

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