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Bolton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 6, 2018

ROBERT F. BOLTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHON T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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 denying Plaintiff's applications for supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner has answered and filed a transcript of the administrative record (hereinafter TR.__). The parties have consented to jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         The parties have briefed their positions, and the matter is now at issue. Based on the Court's review of the record and the issues presented, the Court REVERSES and REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further administrative development.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications for benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-30). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-5). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011).

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date of October 5, 2012. (TR. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Mr. Bolton had the following severe impairments: schizophrenia; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; personality disorder; pain disorder; and obesity. (TR. 17). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR. 17). At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Bolton retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform less than a full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except he can occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk for 6 hours total of 8 hours; and sit for 6 hours total of 8 hours. He can occasionally push/pull including the operation of hand and foot controls; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding; can frequently balance; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He has no manipulative, visual, communicative limitations. He must not work around unprotected heights, around dangerous moving equipment or machinery or on uneven or unstable working surfaces. He can understand, remember, comprehend and carry out simple work-related instructions and tasks. He can work with supervisors and coworkers on a superficial working basis. He cannot work with the general public. He can adapt to routine changes in the working environment.

(TR. 19). The ALJ relied on vocational expert (VE) testimony to find that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (TR. 28, 70-71). As a result, the ALJ made additional findings at step five. There, the ALJ presented several limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with his RFC. (TR. 72-75). Given the limitations, the VE identified three “light” and three “sedentary” jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 72-75). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (TR. 29).

         III. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ: (1) failed to explain his rejection of certain limitations outlined in a consultative physician's opinion and (2) erred in evaluating Plaintiff's subjective statements.

         IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final “decision to determin[e] whether the factual findings are 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). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court will “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.” Vigil v. ...


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