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Moore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 24, 2018

KATHEY MARIE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, 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 benefits 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 Commissioner's decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further administrative development.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications for benefits. (TR. 116-119, 120-123, 127-129, 130-132). Following an administrative hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Sylke Merchan issued an unfavorable decision on February 3, 2016. (TR. 8-19). The Appeals Council (AC) granted Plaintiff's request for review, and issued an unfavorable decision.[1] (TR. 1-7). Thus, the decision of the AC became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The AC 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 AC determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of February 1, 2014. (TR. 5). At step two, the AC determined that Ms. Moore had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus; hypertension; peripheral neuropathy; retinopathy; obesity; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and fibromyalgia. (TR. 5). At step three, the AC 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. 5). At step four, the AC concluded that Ms. Moore retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). She specifically, she can perform frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling; and climbing of stairs and ramps; and no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffold. She also can perform frequent near and far acuity, field of vision, and depth perception and no production coming from left (i.e. assembly line). She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, and environmental and respiratory irritants; and she must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards.

(TR. 5). The AC relied on vocational expert (“VE”) testimony to find that, based on this RFC, Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a short order cook. (TR. 5, 18, 69-70). The AC adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (TR. 6, 18-19).[2]

         III. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges that (1) in assigning weight to the opinions of the State agency physicians, the ALJ improperly evaluated their assessments of Plaintiff's visual and environmental limitations; (2) the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's credibility was “conclusory” and lacking in “actual and specific evidence”; and (3) the ALJ failed to “specifically and properly” analyze the effects of Plaintiff's obesity. (ECF No. 14:2-14).

         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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