Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fulkerson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 26, 2018

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



         Plaintiff Shelly A. Fulkerson 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 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. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R.”), [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 her DIB application on October 29, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of October 16, 2011. R. 21, 160-61, 213. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 4, 2014. R. 21, 36-59. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. See R. 21, 36, 39, 49-56. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 2, 2015. R. 21-31. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-4; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. This action for judicial review followed.


         As relevant here, a person is “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 16, 2011, the alleged onset date. R. 23. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: degenerative arthritis of the left knee; status post closed fracture of the left ankle and heel (with residual pain); and joint disorder of the right wrist. R. 23-24. 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. R. 25.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 25-29; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, subject to the following nonexertional limitations: “[Plaintiff] can only frequently handle and finger.” R. 25. In light of this finding and the testimony of a VE, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a secretary. R. 29-30.

         The ALJ alternatively considered what the result would be if it were assumed that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work and the ALJ proceeded to step five of the sequential evaluation. R. 30-31. The ALJ determined that, in view of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Taking into consideration the hearing testimony of the VE 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 unskilled occupations such as office helper, laundry folder, and assembler of small products II, all of which offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 30-31. The ALJ ultimately found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 16, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. 31.


         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 appeal, Plaintiff challenges (1) the ALJ's treatment of nonsevere impairments in the RFC assessment, and (2) the ALJ's evaluation of the treating-source opinion. The Court finds that the latter claim of error requires reversal.

         A. The ALJ Properly Considered Nonsevere Impairments in the RFC Analysis

         In assessing a claimant's RFC, an ALJ must “consider the combined effect of all medically determinable impairments, whether severe or not.” Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1069 (10th Cir. 2013); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2). At step two of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found both severe and nonsevere impairments. See R. 23-24. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's nonsevere impairments included “major depressive disorder (recurrent) and anxiety disorder (mild).” R. 24. Plaintiff asserts that, in contravention to regulatory directive, the ALJ failed to take these nonsevere medically ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.