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Farris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 11, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Pamela Farris, 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. 21], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 11, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 12. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 62, 78. On May 21, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for disabled widow's benefits. See AR 12. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated October 20, 2015. AR 9-29. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-5. 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 August 31, 2013, the alleged onset date. AR 15.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of lumbar back pain with radiculopathy; cervical spine disc herniation at C6-7; and partial torn rotator cuff on the right, status post arthroscopic reconstructive surgery. AR 15.[2] 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 16.

         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 occasionally crouch, crawl, stoop, and use ramps and stairs. She can never be required to use ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She must avoid hazards, including unprotected heights or moving machinery.

AR 16-24. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a social worker, a child welfare worker, and a child welfare aide. AR 24-25. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 25.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ failed to support his RFC determination by erring in his credibility analysis, improperly discounting the opinion of an examining doctor, and not properly considering Plaintiff's mental health impairments. The Court finds that the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis and does not reach the remainder of Plaintiff's claims.

         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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