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Ruiz Munoz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

May 9, 2018

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


          FRANK H. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Maria Del Rosario Ruiz Munoz, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

          The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).


         Plaintiff was 55 years old on the amended onset of disability date and at the time of the ALJ's denial decision. She is a college graduate and formerly worked as a business owner/retail assistant manager, day care worker, and teacher aide. She claims to have been unable to work since the amended onset date of March 24, 2015, as a result of residual effects of thyroid cancer, arthritis, obesity, endometriosis, after effects of gallbladder and ovary surgery, and depression.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work except for no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, no exposure to unprotected heights, open flames, dangerous machinery or equipment or other hazardous conditions. Plaintiff can understand, remember, and carry out simple or intermediate level instructions and perform simple and some tasks of intermediate level difficulty under routine supervision such that she is capable of performing simple or at most semi-skilled work. She can relate to supervisors and coworkers on a superficial work related basis. [R. 15].

         The ALJ found that with her RFC Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a Day Care Worker as it is generally performed. In addition, based on the testimony of an independent vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff acquired the following work skills in her past relevant work: ability to interview and assess clients and their needs, provide appropriate referral source, or to refer a client or customer to appropriate party, computer skills, money handling skills, cashier, supervisory skills, and some reporting skills. [R. 22]. The ALJ found that these skills are transferable to other jobs that exists in significant numbers in the economy. The case was thus decided at step four of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled, with an alternate step five finding. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts: that the ALJ's finding that she can perform her past relevant work as a Day Care Worker is not supported by substantial evidence; that the ALJ did not perform the proper analysis of her past relevant work; and that the ALJ failed to address all of the objections Plaintiff posed to the vocational expert's testimony.


         Past Relevant Work as a Day Care Worker

         Plaintiff argues that her past relevant work was not as a Day Care Worker, but as a Head Start Teacher where she performed duties in excess of those required of a Day Care Worker. She asserts that since her past work was wrongly identified, the finding that she can return to that work is error. On the Disability Report, Plaintiff described her past work from November 2007 to January 2010 as “Day Care, ” wherein she earned $13.60 per hour. [R. 231-238]. On the work history report for the same dates and pay, Plaintiff labeled her job as “teacher, ” [R. 251], but described her job as follows: “I was working as a Head Strart [sic] teacher in a Day Care Center.” [R. 255]. She stated she taught and supervised children. The vocational expert who testified at the hearing characterized Plaintiff's past work as Day Care Worker. After the hearing Plaintiff submitted an opinion by a private vocational expert who expressed several bases of disagreement with the ...

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