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Varela v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 5, 2018

JOSE MANUEL VARELA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Jose Manuel Varela, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). 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. 11], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural Background

         On March 31, 2017, on remand from this Court, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB. AR 643-55. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 743-44. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Following this process, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements for DIB through December 31, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 17, 2012, his alleged onset date. AR 645.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, obesity, gout, major depressive disorder, status post traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, osteoarthritis of the knees, headaches, and sleep apnea. Id. at 646. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id. at 646-48.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that:

[Plaintiff can] . . . lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for at least 2 hours during an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, and crouch. [Plaintiff] cannot kneel, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. [Plaintiff] can relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis. [Plaintiff] can respond appropriately to usual work situations. [Plaintiff] can have no contact with the general public.

Id. at 649.

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at 654. At step five, relying on a vocational expert's (VE) testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 654-55. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id. at 655.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in: (1) relying on the VE's testimony despite a conflict between the testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) job descriptions; (2) evaluating the State agency psychologist's opinion; and (3) failing to discuss significantly probative evidence. See Pl.'s Br. at 14-28.

         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); see also Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that the court only reviews an ALJ's decision “to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied” and in that review, “we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency” (citations and internal ...


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