United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michael Cooper 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 applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a
United States Magistrate Judge. Doc. Nos. 14, 15. Upon review
of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10, hereinafter
“R. ”) and the arguments and authorities
submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for
protectively filed his application for DIB on November 30,
2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 24, 2011. R.
9, 188-95, 229-30. Following denial of Plaintiff's
application initially and on reconsideration, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing.
R. 34-76, 83-87, 89-91. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on September 11, 2015. R. 9-19. The SSA Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's unfavorable decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. R. 1-3; see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.981. This action for judicial review followed.
relevant here, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine eligibility for disability
benefits. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th
Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, .1520(a)(4). At step
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 24, 2011, the alleged
onset date. R. 11. At step two, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: major depressive
disorder, panic disorder, asthma, bronchitis, chronic
sinusitis, allergies, and obesity. R. 11. At step three, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet
or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the
“Listings”). R. 11-12.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of his impairments. R.
12-17. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
medium work subject to the additional limitations that
should avoid even moderate exposure to dust, fumes, gases,
and pulmonary irritants; [can] perform simple and routine
tasks consistent with unskilled work involving no interaction
with the general public and no more than occasional
interaction with coworkers. [Plaintiff] can learn tasks
through verbal instruction and demonstration.
R. 12; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) (defining
“medium work”). At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work and
that transferability of job skills was not a material issue.
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. Taking into consideration the hearing testimony of a
vocational expert regarding the degree of erosion to the
unskilled medium occupational base caused by Plaintiff's
additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
could perform occupations such as production helper, rack
loader, conveyor tender, hand bander, small-products
assembler, and silver wrapper, all of which offer jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R.
18-19. On this basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from June 24, 2011, through the date of the
decision. R. 19.
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).
action, Plaintiff presents two claims of error: (1) the ALJ
erred in determining Plaintiff's RFC, including by (a)
failing to properly consider the limitations caused by
Plaintiff's impairment of chronic migraine headaches, (b)
failing to properly consider the limitations caused by
Plaintiff's impairment of agoraphobia, and (c) failing to
properly consider medical opinions of Plaintiff's
treating physicians; and (2) the ALJ erred at step three by
improperly applying the “special technique” in
evaluating whether Plaintiff's mental impairments met one
or more Listings. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 18) at