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Miles v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 12, 2018

MARY ANN MILES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Mary Ann Miles 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 application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R. ”), [1] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff filed her SSI application on December 23, 2013, alleging disability due to problems with her feet and knees. R. 11, 139, 156. Plaintiff ultimately alleged August 1, 2014, to be her disability-onset date. R. 11, 26. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 5, 2015. R. 22-61, 72-74. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 22, 26-36. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 23, 2015. R. 8-21.

         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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her application. R. 13. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of osteoarthritis of both knees and obesity. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's diabetes was nonsevere in nature and that Plaintiff had no medically determinable impairment to her hands. R. 13. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 13-14.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 14-16. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, i.e.: “to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and sit for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.” R. 14 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 16.

         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. R. 17. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled light occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform light occupations such as food preparer[2] and bench assembler, [3] and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 17. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 18.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.


         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, 569 F.3d at 1169. “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).


         In this action, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence and that, in light of the allegedly-proper finding that Plaintiff can only perform sedentary work, a determination of “disabled” was required upon application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids, ” see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P app. 2). See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 15) at 9-19.

         I. Whether the RFC Determination Is Based on Proper Legal Standards and Supported by Substantial Evidence

         Plaintiff presents three challenges to the ALJ's RFC findings. The undersigned addresses each below.

         A. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Consulting ...

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