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Russell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 14, 2018

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



         Plaintiff, Kevin Russell, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision finding he was not disabled under the Social Security Act. 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. 16], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On February 6, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). See AR 15. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 120, 148. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated April 1, 2016. AR 12-34. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 7-11. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 15, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. AR 17.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of diabetes, chronic neck and back pain, major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and morbid obesity. AR 17-18.[2] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 18-20.

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

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except [Plaintiff] can occasionally stoop, crouch, and kneel. He is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions, but not detailed instructions.

         AR 20-26. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 26. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-production solderer, mail clerk, and storage rental clerk. AR 27-28. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 28.

         III. Issues Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ did not appropriately weigh the opinion evidence or consider probative evidence. Further, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in her credibility analysis. The Court finds the ALJ erred by failing to consider probative evidence and not addressing the opinion of a medical source. The Court does not reach the merits of Plaintiff's credibility argument.

         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). “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) (quotation 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the ...

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