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Thurston v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 25, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Ashley Thurston, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of disability insurance benefits (DIB). This matter has been referred by United States District Judge Scott L. Palk for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 13], and both parties have briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 8, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB. See AR 17. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 106-107. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated June 29, 2016. AR 14-36. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of May 10, 2013 through her date last insured of December 31, 2015. AR 19.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: multiple sclerosis; anxiety disorder; right side visual loss secondary to optic neuritis; DJD of right hip, status post surgical repair of torn labrum; chronic diarrhea/IBS; obesity; DJD of the right knee, state post arthroscopic repair; mild cognitive impairment; and depression. AR 19-24. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 25-26.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except with nonexertional limitations. [Plaintiff] can: lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; walk/stand up to 6 of 8 hours with normal breaks; and sit for up to 6 of 8 hours. [Plaintiff] can occasionally balance. [Plaintiff] should avoid exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, and hazards. [Plaintiff] should never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can understand, remember and carry out simple and detailed instructions, and she can have occasional interaction with public, coworkers and supervisors.

AR 27-30. The ALJ then found Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. AR 30. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-routing clerk, collator operator, and mail sorter. AR 30-31. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 32.

         III. Standard of Review

          Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 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) (quotation 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations 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 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) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IV. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff asserts the ALJ did not adequately account for her visual limitations in the RFC. The Court finds that ...

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