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Bertwell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 28, 2018

MAEGAN G. BERTWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Maegan Bertwell objects to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“R&R” or “Report”) [Doc. No. 20] recommending that the Court affirm the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act [Doc. No. 21]. Defendant has responded to the objection [Doc. No. 22]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         The Social Security Act defines “disability” as the “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). Under the Act, a claimant is disabled “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....” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). Regulations implementing the Act set forth a five-step process for evaluating a disability claim:

Step one requires a claimant to establish she is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Step two requires the claimant to establish she has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Step three asks whether any “medically severe impairment, ” alone or in combination with other impairments, is equivalent to any of a number of listed impairments so severe as to preclude “substantial gainful employment.” If listed, the impairment is conclusively presumed disabling. If unlisted, the claimant must establish at step four that her impairment prevents her from performing work she has previously performed. If the claimant is not considered disabled at step three, but has satisfied her burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability under steps one, two, and four, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform other work in the national economy in view of her age, education, and work experience.

Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted).

         On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging she was disabled beginning October 1, 2013. The claim proceedings culminated with a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who heard evidence regarding Plaintiff's medical condition. As noted by the Magistrate Judge, the ALJ made the following findings regarding Plaintiff's claims of disability:

(1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2013, her alleged disability onset date;
(2) Plaintiff had severe impairments due to degenerative disc disease status post L5-S1 fusion, obesity, PTSD, anxiety, and depression;
(3) Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment;
(4) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light level with additional limitations as follows: “She can occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, balance, crouch, and crawl. She can understand and carry out simple instructions and some complex [instructions] as in semiskilled work. She can have superficial and incidental work-related interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but no public interaction required to complete job duties”; and
(5) Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work; considering Plaintiff's age, educational level, work experience, and RFC, as well as the vocational testimony, Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

R&R at 6-7.

         On appeal, Plaintiff raises two propositions of error: (1) the Magistrate Judge's opinion regarding the ALJ's credibility finding constituted an unlawful “post-hoc justification” for denying Plaintiff's claim; (2) the Magistrate Judge erred in determining that the ALJ's findings with regard ...


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