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Butler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 25, 2018

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



         Plaintiff, Sheila Butler, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for supplemental security income (SSI). United States District Judge David L. Russell has referred the matter for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), 636(B)(3); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 15], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 29, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to SSI. AR 16-22. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-3. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         “The Social Security Administration has established a five-step process for consideration of disability claims.” Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264, 1266 (10th Cir. 2016). “At the second step, the [ALJ] is to consider whether an impairment is severe.” Id. If the impairment is severe, the ALJ “must continue to consider the impairment through the third, fourth, and fifth steps.” Id. “If the claimant has no severe impairments, the judge can end the review at the second step.” Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (“If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe . . . we will find that you are not disabled.”).

         Here, at step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from the medically determinable impairments of “degenerative joint disease of the left knee; status post (s/p) left and right knee arthroscopies; and obesity” but that the impairments, individually or in combination, had not significantly limited Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities and were therefore not severe. AR 18-19. Finding no severe impairments, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 21-22.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ: (1) lacked substantial evidence to find Plaintiff's right knee impairment was non-severe; (2) relied on a stale medical opinion; (3) failed to weigh the treating physician's opinion; and, (4) failed to properly consider the combined effects of Plaintiff's obesity with her other impairments. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds no grounds for reversal.

         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. See Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004). While the Court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, it does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations and citations omitted).

         V. Analysis

         At step two, the ALJ must determine “whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-141 (1987). The agency's “severity regulation” governs the determination, and provides in relevant part:

If you do not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled. We ...

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