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Hamm v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2018

KELLY RAE HAMM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Kelly Rae Hamm, 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 January 28, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 18. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 95, 104. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated January 28, 2016. AR 13-36. 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. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 9, 2011, the amended alleged onset date. AR 18.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of Chiari malformation, pseudo tumor cerebri, bilateral optic nerve drusen, shopping cart syndrome, headaches, hypertension, degenerative disc disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and fibromyalgia with fatigue. AR 18-20.[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 20-22.

         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 404.1567(a) except: lift, carry, push, and pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for 2 out of 8 hours; sit for 6 hours of an 8 hour day; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no balancing; occasional climb stairs and ramps; occasional kneel, crouch, crawl and stoop; no unprotected heights, no hazardous unprotected machinery; and no commercial driving.

         AR 22-29. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a receptionist and as an automobile service cashier/secretary. AR 29. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 30.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in her credibility analysis and in weighing the opinions of three of Plaintiff's treating physicians. The Court finds the ALJ erred in her credibility analysis and reverses and remands on that basis. The Court does not reach the merits of the remaining issue.

         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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