United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
CYNTHIA L. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Cynthia L. Anderson 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
(“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, and for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, id. §§ 1381-1383f. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
Judge. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10,
hereinafter “R. ”),  and the arguments and
authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the
HISTORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on July 11,
2013, alleging disability beginning June 26, 2013. R. 13,
162-73, 202. Following denial of her applications initially
and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 21,
2015. R. 28-52, 53-93, 96-104. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on July 28, 2015. R. 13-27.
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 26, 2013, the alleged disability-onset
date. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of chronic low and thoracic back
pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, right shoulder degenerative
joint disease, depression, and anxiety. R. 15-16. At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not
meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her medically
determinable impairments. R. 18-21. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform medium work, with the
following limitations: “sit for six hours and stand or
walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday; no over the
shoulder reaching with the right upper extremity; frequently
handle, finger, feel, and grip; and, limited to simple and
detailed tasks and instructions.” R. 18.
four, the ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”) and found that Plaintiff was able to
perform her past relevant work as a Utility Clerk. R. 21;
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(1), (2);
id. § 416.960(b)(1), (2). The ALJ alternatively
found at step five that Plaintiff could perform the light
unskilled occupation of Food Cashier II and that this
occupation offers jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy. R. 21-22.
therefore determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the
relevant time period. R 22; see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f), .1560(b)(3);
id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f), .960(b)(3).
Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was
denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands
as the Commissioner's final decision. R. 1-6;
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to
determining whether factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether
correct legal standards were applied. 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) (internal quotation marks 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)
(internal quotation marks omitted). The court
“meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ”
including any evidence “that may undercut or detract
from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if
the substantiality test has been met.” Wall,
561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a
reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed
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).
action, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's finding of
nondisability as inconsistent with the ALJ's RFC
determination-specifically, the limitation within the RFC to
“stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour
workday.” R. 18; see Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No.
16) at 8-11. According to Plaintiff, this two-hour limitation
is irreconcilable with the performance of medium or light
work, thus undermining the ALJ's step-four and step-five
findings that Plaintiff is capable of fulfilling the stated
light occupations. See Pl.'s Br. at 8-11.
four, the ALJ made the determinative findings that Plaintiff
had past relevant work as a Utility Clerk and could return to
that work. R. 21. Accordingly, the Court begins (and ends)
its analysis with the question of whether the ALJ's
step-four findings are supported by substantial evidence and
by the application of correct legal standards. See
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988)
(“If a determination can be made at any of the steps
that a claimant is or is not disabled, evaluation under a
subsequent step is not necessary.”); Murrell v.
Shalala, 43 F.3d 1388, 1389 (10th Cir. 1994)
(“[T]he integrity of a step-four finding is not
compromised in any way by the recognition that step five, if
it were reached, would dictate the same [or a different]
result.” (alteration in original)).
Whether the ALJ's Step-Four Conclusion Is Supported ...