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Coleman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 23, 2018

LORI ANNE COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Lori Anne Coleman, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 12], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On June 17, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB. AR 11-19. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-5. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the multi-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Following this process, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for DIB through December 31, 2018 and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 2, 2013, her alleged onset date. AR 13.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from severe degenerative disease, but that, at step three, her impairment does not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id. at 13, 16.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that she can perform sedentary work with exertional limitations. Id. at 16. Finally, at step four, relying on a vocational expert's (VE) testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work. Id. at 19. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff presents two claims for review. First, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in rejecting the consultative examiner's opinion that she can only sit for three hours total in an eight-hour workday. See Pl.'s Br. at 12-17. Second, Plaintiff claims the ALJ also erred in rejecting the medical expert's opinion that her medications limit her ability to “function[] coherently or drive[] safely.” Id. at 17-20 (citing AR 39). Because the Court finds reversal necessary on Plaintiff's second argument, it does not address her first.[2]

         IV. 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); see also Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that the court only reviews an ALJ's decision “to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied” and in that review, “we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         V. Analysis

         Orthopedist Dr. Henry S. Urbank, Jr., M.D., [3] reviewed Plaintiff's medical file and offered his expert testimony, at the SSA's request. AR 33-41. Dr. Urbank expressed two opinions. First, he stated that he did not believe that Plaintiff's severe impairment meets or equals Listing 1.04A. Id. at 38. Second, he opined that Plaintiff “takes way too much medicine” and noted that he ...


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