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Eshragh v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 8, 2018

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



         Plaintiff, Myrna Eshragh, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision finding she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. 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. 6], and both parties have briefed their respective 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 May 1, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits. See AR 13. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 71, 80. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated November 21, 2016. AR 10-31. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-5. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2011, her alleged onset date. AR 15.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of disorders of the back (lumbar spine), dysfunction of the major joints (right shoulder, status post arthroscopic surgical intervention), peripheral neuropathy (bilateral lower extremities), bilateral hands (status post carpal tunnel release), left knee, left ankle, and obesity. Id.[2] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 16.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) with the following limitations: occasionally climb ramps and stairs, avoid the climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; avoid no more than occasional reaching overhead with bilateral upper extremities; frequently use the bilateral upper extremities for reaching otherwise; frequently use the bilateral upper extremities for fingering; occasional stooping, kneeling[, ] crouching, and crawling, and occasional use of the bilateral lower extremities for foot controls.

         AR 16-26. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ then found Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a receptionist, customer service representative, and telephone solicitor. AR 26. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 27.

         III. Issue Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in formulating the RFC because she failed to weigh the opinions of a treating physician.

         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). “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) (quotation 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the ...

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