United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Kristi Speaks appeals the denial of her claim for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. United States District Judge Vicki
Miles-LaGrange has referred this matter to the undersigned
Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28
U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. The Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) has answered and filed the
administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R.
”). The parties have briefed their positions,
and the case is now ready for decision. For the reasons set
forth below, the undersigned recommends that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
filed this, her second application for Social Security
benefits, on July 2, 2013, originally alleging an onset date
of May 13, 2012. R. 99. Previously, Plaintiff had filed
applications for both DIB under Title II and supplemental
security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Act. R. 9. The previous applications were denied initially
and on reconsideration. However, on May 17, 2013,
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jodi B. Levine
issued a fully favorable decision granting Plaintiff's
previous applications for DIB and SSI for a closed period of
disability beginning May 1, 2009, and ending July 17, 2011.
instant case, Plaintiff's amended disability onset date
is May 18, 2013, the day after ALJ Levine issued her fully
favorable opinion. The previous case was not reopened.
denial of Plaintiff's application for DIB in the instant
case, both initially and on reconsideration, R. 68-93, ALJ
Edward L. Thompson held a hearing on January 28, 2015. R.
6-67. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 16,
2015. R. 98-111. The SSA Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
R. 1-3; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff
then filed this action for judicial review.
relevant here, a person is “disabled” within the
meaning of the Social Security Act if he or she is
“unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520.
determining that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through September 30, 2016, the ALJ
found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 18, 2013, her amended
alleged onset date. R. 101. At step two, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had the following impairments that, in combination,
were the equivalent of a “severe” impairment:
lumbar and thoracic spondylosis status post interbody fusion
at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1; morbid obesity; hypertension; an
affective disorder; and an anxiety-related disorder. R. 101.
At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or equal any of the presumptively
disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. R. 101-04.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her medically
determinable impairments. He found Plaintiff can perform
light work with the following additional limitations:
the claimant can never climb a ladder, rope, or scaffold; the
claimant can frequently balance; the claimant can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and
stairs; the claimant must avoid even moderate exposure to
hazards, such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected
heights; the claimant has the mental capacity to perform,
understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine tasks;
the claimant cannot understand and remember detailed or
complex instructions; the claimant can have no contact with
the general public; the claimant can relate to others for
work purposes, but should not work with the general public;
and the claimant can adapt to a work environment.
R. 104-05; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)
(defining “light” work).
four, the ALJ relied “on SSA policy and therefore
ma[de] no findings concerning the claimant's past
relevant work.” R. 110 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1565). At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work
experience, and RFC-could perform. Based on the hearing
testimony of a vocational expert regarding the degree of
erosion to the unskilled light occupational base that is
caused by Plaintiff's additional nonexertional
limitations, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform
occupations such as bottling-line attendant, electrode
cleaner, and addresser, all of which exist in significant
numbers in the ...