United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
BRIAN K. BRANCH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Brian K. Branch 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.__”),  and the arguments and authorities
submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further
protectively filed his application for SSI on February 3,
2012. R. 11, 35, 162-71. Plaintiff ultimately alleged
February 3, 2012, to be his disability-onset date. R.11, 35.
Following denial of his application initially and on
reconsideration, Plaintiff and his attorney attended a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on December 4, 2014. See R.
32-83. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 16,
2015, and the SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-5, 8-10, 11-25;
see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. This action for
judicial review followed.
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. § 416.920.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 3, 2012, the
alleged onset date. R. 13. At step two, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“Scheuermann's kyphosis; right hand carpal tunnel
syndrome; right ulnar neuropathy, and depressive disorder
(schizotypal personality traits).” R. 13. 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. 13-15.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of his medically
determinable impairments. R. 15-23. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work with the
following additional limitations:
[T]he claimant can: frequently lift/carry/push/pull less than
10 pounds and occasionally lift/carry/push/pull 10 pounds.
The claimant can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and
stand/walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant can
occasionally climb stairs and ramps, kneel, crouch, crawl,
and stoop. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes,
scaffolds, or balance. The claimant can perform simple tasks
with routine supervision. The claimant can have no public
contact and cannot perform customer service work. The
claimant is able to interact appropriately with supervisors
and co-workers on a superficial work basis. The claimant is
able to adapt to a work situation.
R. 15; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a) (defining
“sedentary” 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. R. 23.
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. 23-24. Taking into consideration the hearing
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) regarding
the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational
base that is caused by Plaintiff's additional
limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform
occupations such as document specialist, surveillance-system
monitor, and touch-up screener, all of which offer jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 24.
On this basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
from February 3, 2012, through the date of the decision. R.
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 ...