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Barry v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2018

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



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application for disability insurance (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1382. Defendant has answered the Complaint and filed the administrative record (hereinafter AR___), and the parties have briefed the issues. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). For the following reasons, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Administrative History and Agency Decision

         On December 16, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging that he became disabled on December 31, 2008, due to mental issues, back pain, and bad knees. AR 16, 203, 208. At a hearing conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to December, 16, 2013. AR 33-34. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Following the agency's well-established sequential evaluation procedure, the ALJ found at the first step that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 16, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of cervical and lumbar spines; osteoarthritis of knees status-post remote right arthroscopy; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder; and amphetamine, marijuana, LSD, and alcohol dependence in reported remission. At the third step, the ALJ found that these impairments were not per se disabling as Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at the light exertional level in that he could lift up to 20 pounds with no more than frequent lifting or carrying of up to 10 pounds; stand/walk 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; and sit 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. The ALJ also included additional limitations as follows:

[Plaintiff] is able to understand, remember, and carryout simple and some complex instructions consistent with semiskilled work that is repetitive and routine in nature and able to relate and interact with co-workers and supervisors on a work-related basis only with no to minimal interaction with the general public. [Plaintiff] can adapt to a work situation with these limitations/restrictions and his medications would not preclude him from remaining reasonably alert to perform required functions presented in a work setting.

         AR 20. Based on this RFC finding and testimony regarding the requirements of Plaintiff's previous work, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work.

         Reaching the fifth and final step of the required sequential analysis, and relying on the VE's testimony as to the ability of a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's work history, age, education, and RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in the national economy. These included work as a press machine operator, production inspector, and office cleaner. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from December 16, 2013, through the date of the decision.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and therefore the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).

         II. Issues Raised

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ legally erred by failing to weigh the medical opinion evidence under the correct legal standards. Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. # 15) at 5-14. Plaintiff also asserts that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff can perform significant gainful activity. Pl.'s Br. at 14-15.

         III. General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review

         The Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010); Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The “determination of whether the ALJ's ruling is supported by substantial evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Consequently, [the Court must] remain mindful that evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citations, internal quotation marks, and brackets omitted).

         The Social Security Act authorizes payment of benefits to an individual with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. A disability is an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1509 (duration requirement), 416.909 (same). Both the ...

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