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Dicenso v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 31, 2018

EMILY E. DICENSO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Emily E. DiCenso, 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. 9], 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 September 13, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI), alleging disability beginning October 1, 2011. See AR 44. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 138-139. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated December 29, 2015. AR 41-61. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-7. 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. § 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 13, 2013, the application date. AR 46.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, status post 2007 spinal fusion and revision in 2008; irritable bowel syndrome and colon resection with pelvic floor dysfunction; migraines; episodes of syncope; and status post bone spur removal. AR 46-48.[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 48-49.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds: occasionally climb ramps and stairs: occasionally balance and stoop; never kneel, crouch, or crawl: occasional exposure to hazards such as hazardous moving machinery, raw chemicals or solutions, and unprotected heights; and allow for a sit stand option alternatively at will one time per hour for 5 minutes.

AR 49-54. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work. AR 54. 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-addresser, touch up screener, and order clerk. AR 54-55. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 55.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review raising two claims of error. First, Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by failing to determine that she was disabled at step three. Next, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in her credibility analysis. The Court finds no error at step three. However, the Court finds the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiff's credibility, thus remand is warranted.

         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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