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Perkins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 26, 2018

CARRIE ANN PERKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Carrie Ann Perkins brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. United States District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange has referred this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Commissioner has answered and filed the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R. ').[1] The parties have briefed their positions, and the case is now ready for decision. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on March 6, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of January 19, 2013. R. 162-65, 200-02. Following denial of Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing. R. 31-64, 65, 80, 101-05, 107-09. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 21, 2015. R. 10-25. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-3; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         As relevant here, a person is “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 19, 2013, the alleged onset date. R. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, hypertension, gastric disorders, blindness in her right eye, hearing loss in her right ear, headaches, a speech disorder, arthritis, intracranial schwannomas, and a history of Bell's palsy. R. 13. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 13-16.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 16-23. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work, with the additional specifications that Plaintiff

can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] must also avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and heavy machinery. [Plaintiff] can perform work where oral communication is not an essential job function. [Plaintiff] can also understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. [Plaintiff] can respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations, but can have no contact with the general public.

         R. 16; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) (defining “sedentary” work). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work and that transferability of job skills was not a material issue. R. 23.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. Taking into consideration the hearing testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base that is caused by Plaintiffs additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform occupations such as small-parts assembler, lens inserter, and cuff folder, all of which offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 23-24. On this basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 19, 2013, through the date of the decision. R. 24.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. 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) (internal quotation marks 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff asserts several claims of error: (1) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record; (2) the ALJ failed to properly analyze Plaintiff's RFC, including by (a) not properly weighing the medical source evidence, and (b) not properly evaluating Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) the ALJ failed to sustain his burden of proof at step five of the sequential evaluation process. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 15) at 3. Finding that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the treating-source opinions of Craig Evans, MD, and ...


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