United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
JANICE R. BENNETT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S
B. Cohn United States Magistrate Judge
AND ORDER TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S APPEAL
matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge for decision. Janice R. Bennett
(“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
decision finding of not disabled. As set forth below, the
Court DENIES Plaintiff's appeal and
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision in
STANDARD OF REVIEW
receive di sability or supplemental security benefits under
the Social Security Act (“Act”), a claimant bears
the burden to demonstrate an “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
further provides that an individual:
shall be determined to be under a disability only if his
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Plaintiff must demonstrate the physical or mental impairment
“by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§
Security regulations implement a five-step sequential process
to evaluate a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748,
750 (10th Cir. 1988) (setting forth the five steps in
detail). “If a determination can be made at any of the
steps that a plaintiff is or is not disabled, evaluation
under a subsequent step is not necessary.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. The claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four. See Wells v.
Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1064 at n.1. (10th Cir. 2013). If
the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner
must show at step five that jobs exist in the national
economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age,
education, and work experience can perform. Id.
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied
the correct legal standards and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. See e.g., 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“court shall review only the
question of conformity with such regulations and the validity
of such regulations”); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. See id.
Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or
considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). The Court's review is based on the record, and
the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a
whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from
the [Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ's”)] findings in order to determine if
the substantiality test has been met.” Id. The
Court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if
the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d
903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and
423, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
payments under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3), in October 2008. (See Tr. 46-49). She
alleged disability beginning December 2, 2007, due to
arthritis and deteriorating bones in the spine. (Tr. 132).
After early denials, Plaintiff testified at an administrative
hearing and, in August 2010, an ALJ issued a decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 17-24, 27-45, 51-58, 62-67). The
Appeals Council declined review. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff then
appealed to this Court, which remanded the case to the agency
for further proceedings. (Tr. 536-52).
held a new administrative hearing, during which Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. (Tr. 513-35). Plaintiff amended her
alleged onset of disability to June 10, 2009. (Tr. 495,
515-16). At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-nine
years old. (Tr. 30). In August 2014, the ALJ issued a
partially favorable decision finding Plaintiff disabled as of
August 28, 2013, but not disabled at any earlier time. (Tr.
495-506). On October 6, 2016, the Appeals Council declined
review of the new decision, making the August 2014 ALJ
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr.
481-86). Plaintiff then appealed to this Court. The
overarching question from the second ALJ decision is whether
Plaintiff was not disabled prior to August 28, 2013.
ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
appeal, Plaintiff alleges four errors: (1) the ALJ erred by
failing to properly apply the treating physician rule; (2)
the ALJ erred by failing to find Plaintiff limited to at
least light work and should “grid out” according
to the medical vocational guidelines; (3) the ALJ erred at
Step [Five] of the sequential evaluation process by
finding Plaintiff could perform work, which directly violates
her residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
limitations; and (4) the ALJ erred at Step Five of the
sequential evaluation process by finding Plaintiff could
perform the job duties of cook helper, dining room attendant,
and machine packager. (Pl. Br. at 2, Doc. 13).
ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Evidence
in the Record
contends the ALJ failed to properly apply the treating
physician rule and gave the Disability Determination
physicians great weight even though they did not examine
Plaintiff. (Pl. Br. at 2-3). In the decision, the ALJ
reviewed the record when evaluating the medical evidence:
Since the amended alleged onset date of disability, June 10,
2009, the claimant has had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease. Beginning on the established
onset date of disability, August 28, 2013, the claimant has