United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
'). 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 ...