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Lawson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 25, 2018




         William Lawson (Plaintiff) brings this action for judicial review of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (Commissioner) final decision he was not “disabled” under the terms of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423(d)(1)(A). United States District Judge Robin J. Cauthron referred this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (b)(3) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Doc. 15. Following a careful review of the parties' briefs, the administrative record (AR)[1] and the relevant authority, the undersigned recommends the court affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Administrative determination.

         A. Disability standard.

         The Social Security Act defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). “This twelve-month duration requirement applies to the claimant's inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity, and not just his underlying impairment.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 218-19 (2002)).

         B. Burden of proof.

         Plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing a disability” and of “ma[king] a prima facie showing that he can no longer engage in his prior work activity.” Turner v. Heckler, 754 F.2d 326, 328 (10th Cir. 1985). If Plaintiff makes that prima facie showing, the burden of proof then shifts to the Commissioner to show Plaintiff retains the capacity to perform a different type of work and that such a specific type of job exists in the national economy. Id.

         C. Relevant findings.

         1. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) findings.

         The ALJ assigned to Plaintiff's case applied the standard regulatory analysis in order to decide whether Plaintiff was disabled during the relevant timeframe. AR 12-19; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a); see also Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (describing the five-step process). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff:

(1) had the severe impairments of chronic low back pain, chronic right hip pain, degenerative joint disease (DJD) of the left shoulder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema, and chronic dizziness[2];
(2) had no impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment;
(3) had the residual functional capacity[3] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 416.967(a) with limitations: he can lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently during an eight-hour workday; he can frequently stand/walk a total of two hours, with a cane required for ambulation, in an eight-hour workday-he would have his free hand available to carry small items; he can sit six of eight hours in a normal workday; he can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl during a normal workday; he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he can occasionally reach overhead with his left upper extremity; he needs to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, gases and poor ventilation. He must avoid exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights;
(4) did not have any past relevant work;
(5) could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as final assembler, gold burnisher, and addresser; and therefore,
(6) was not disabled.

AR 12-19.

         2. Appeals Council findings.

         The SSA's Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 17, 2017, so the ALJ's unfavorable decision is the Commissioner's final decision in this case. AR 1-6; see Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011).

         II. Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         A. Review standard.

         The court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to determine “whether substantial evidence supports the factual findings and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d 1326, 1330 (10th Cir. 2016). In applying that standard, the court will ‚Äúneither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the ...

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