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Fisher v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 4, 2018

ERIC FISHER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Gary M. Purcell, Judge

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. Defendant has answered the Complaint and filed the administrative record (hereinafter AR), 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 and Final Agency Decision

         Plaintiff applied for Title II disability insurance benefits on September 26, 2013. In his application, Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on June 1, 2013, due to asthma, brain injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, hearing loss, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome (“PTSD”), depression, right shoulder injury, and deviated septum. AR 178, 181.

         Plaintiff was 40 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision, had a college degree, and had served in the military. AR 19, 247. Plaintiff has a history of treatment at the Veteran's Affairs (“VA”) Medical Center for issues including adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood, anger issues, and PTSD. See AR 240-314, 323-328, 329-411. Plaintiff has a VA disability rating of 90%. AR 245.

         Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing conducted on June 2, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 27-58. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued a decision in which the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Following the agency's well-established sequential evaluation procedure, the ALJ found at the first step that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from June 2013 to July 2013, but there had been a continuous 12-month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ's findings addressed the periods during which Plaintiff did not work. At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of PTSD, bipolar disorder, chronic right shoulder pain, use of binaural hearing aids, and migraines. At the third step, the ALJ found that these impairments were not per se disabling as Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at the light exertional level in that he could lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and walk up to 30 minutes at a time, up to 4 hours in an 8-hour workday; and sit at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.

         The ALJ also included additional limitations as follows:

He is limited to occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; and no more than occasional overhead reaching with the right upper extremity. He is limited to quiet or office level noise environment. He should have no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors; and no more than rare contact with the public.

AR 14.

         Based on this RFC finding and Plaintiff's and the VE's testimony regarding the requirements of Plaintiff's previous work, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work.

         Reaching the fifth and final step of the required sequential analysis, and relying on the VE's testimony as to the ability of a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's work history, age, education, and this RFC for work, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in the national economy. These included work as a clerical worker, data entry clerk, or bill sorter. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2013, through the date of the decision.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and therefore the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).

         II. ...

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