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Haese v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 13, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff David Scott Haese 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 Plaintiffs applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, id. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 7, hereinafter "R. J"), [1] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed his DIB application on June 17, 2010. R. 256-62, 273-80, 303. Following denial of his application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on December 16, 2011. R. 40-72, 108-13, 256-62, 303-05. Three days later, Plaintiff filed his SSI application. R. 273-80. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 10, 2013, and Plaintiff appealed to the SSA Appeals Council. R. 111-25, 199. The Appeals Council granted review and vacated the denial of benefits, remanding the case to an ALJ for resolution of multiple issues and to allow Plaintiff the opportunity for a new hearing. R. 126-31.

         On remand, a hearing was conducted before a different ALJ. R. 73-107. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing, along with a vocational expert. R. 77-106. On October 19, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 13-39.

         As relevant here, 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, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 13, 2012, Plaintiffs amended disability-onset date. R. 17, 19, 76-77. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild degenerative joint disease in his right hip; mild degenerative disc disease in his lumbar spine; shortness of breath; sleep apnea; hypertension; and obesity. R. 19-24. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiffs mental impairment was nonsevere in nature. R. 24-27. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs 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. 27.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") based on all of his medically determinable impairments ("MDIs"). R. 27-31. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work with additional limitations:

[T]he claimant can frequently lift/carry/push/pull less than 10 pounds; occasionally lift/carry/push/pull 10 pounds; sit 6 hours in an 8 hour day; stand/walk 2 hours in an 8 hour day; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; cannot kneel, crouch, or crawl; occasionally climb stairs and ramps; occasionally balance and stoop; and uses oxygen with cannula as needed.

R. 27. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 32.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of his age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. R. 32-33. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base caused by Plaintiffs additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform sedentary occupations such as table worker, telephone-quotation clerk, and call-out operator, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 32-33. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 33.

         Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-6; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 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 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).


         In this action, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in evaluating his subjective complaints of symptoms and that the ALJ improperly neglected to order a second ...

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