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Marler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 18, 2018

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



         Plaintiff, Cheryl A. Marler, 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. 10], 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 April 18, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 21. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 70-77. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated September 21, 2015. AR 18-37. 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 during the “‘relevant period' of February 15, 2007[, ] through her date last insured of December 31, 2008.” AR 23.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorder. AR 24.[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 26-27.

         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 with lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time; frequent lifting or carrying up to 10 pounds; standing/walking 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; sitting 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; and no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions consistent with unskilled work that is repetitive and routine in nature and able to relate and interact with coworkers and supervisors on a work-related basis only with no to minimal interaction with the general public. [Plaintiff] can adapt to a work situation with these limitations/restrictions and her medications would not preclude her from remaining reasonably alert to perform required functions presented in a work setting.

AR 27-31. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 31. 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-inspector hand packager, mail sorter, and electrical accessories assembler. AR 31-32. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 33.

         III. Issue Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review raising two claims of error. First, Plaintiff claims the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of a consultative psychological examiner leading to error in the RFC. Second, Plaintiff claims that she is unable to work any of the jobs the ALJ identified at step five.

         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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