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Lynn v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 27, 2018

TRESA LYNN P., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JODI F. JAYNE, MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tresa Lynn P. seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and disabled widow's benefits under Title II, and her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and 1382c(a)(3). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. Any appeal of this decision will be directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

         ISSUE

         On appeal, Plaintiff raises one point of error. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to make “legally required findings regarding the heightened transferrable skill standard” for a claimant who is “closely approaching retirement age.” ECF No. 16.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” See Id. The Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will “meticulously examine 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.” Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different conclusion, the Commissioner's decision stands so long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).

         ANALYSIS

         I. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended onset date of May 31, 2013. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; osteoarthritis with generalized body pain and joint involvement; obesity; allergies and tentative diagnosis of COPD; high blood pressure; panic attacks; anxiety; and depression.” R. 21. Although Plaintiff continues to smoke with a “tentative diagnosis of COPD, ” which reduced her credibility, the ALJ imposed respiratory irritant limitations in her residual functional capacity (“RFC”). None of Plaintiff's impairments, individually or in combination, rose to the level of a listed impairment. R. 21-24.

         After considering Plaintiff's testimony, reviewing the record, and considering testimony from the Vocational Expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform

a full range of light work as defined in Social Security Rulings and Regulations, including 20 CFR SECTION 404.1567(b), except as follows: No. climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and no crawling. Stooping, crouching, and climbing of ramps or stairs limited to occasional. Overhead reaching is limited to occasionally bilaterally. No. exposure to elevated levels of fumes, dusts, odors, or other respiratory irritants (elevated level is defined as in excess of that normally found in modern office buildings or light manufacturing facilities). Due to mental impairments, claimant can understand, remember, and carryout [sic] simple or intermediate level instructions, and perform simple and some tasks of intermediate level difficulty under routine supervisions, such that she is capable of doing simple or most semi-skilled work. No. contact with the general public. Claimant can relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial and work related basis, and can adapt to a work situation.

R. 24.

         The ALJ combined his discussion of Plaintiff's credibility with his discussion of the objective evidence, highlighting several instances throughout the record he found inconsistent with a finding of disability. The ALJ found that Plaintiff classified her impairments as chronic, existing prior to her alleged onset date. Despite these “chronic” conditions, Plaintiff continued to work. The ALJ discussed the “limited amount of medical evidence” in conjunction with Plaintiff's work record, finding that she “has no significant treatment history for her alleged chronic conditions prior to her employment termination.” R. 25-26. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff stopped working due to a change in management resulting in her termination, rather than due to her alleged conditions. R. 26. The ALJ found that these facts, in combination, reduced Plaintiff's overall credibility and established that she was not as impaired as she claimed.

         After receiving testimony from the VE during Plaintiff's ALJ hearing, the ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work as a warranty claims clerk due to the limitation on contact with the general public. The ALJ asked the VE if Plaintiff retained any transferable skills from her past relevant work. The VE testified that Plaintiff retained the transferable skills of “office skills, data entry, and customer service.” R. 27, 97-98. After questioning the VE further, the ALJ ultimately found that Plaintiff could perform the job of Data Entry Operator, a semi-skilled job (SVP 4), performed at the sedentary level, with 100, 000 jobs ...


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