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Hillier v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 5, 2018

LISA HILLIER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, 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 disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 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 Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS for further administrative findings.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications for benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-27). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ 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. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 25, 2014, her alleged onset date. (TR. 16). At step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Hillier had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; hypertension; plantar fasciitis/foot pain; and obesity. (TR. 16). At step three, the ALJ 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. 17).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Hillier retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can lift/carry twenty-pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently; she can push and pull consistent with lifting and carrying; stand/walk five-hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit six-hours in an eight-hour workday. She requires the need to change positions, but does not have to leave the workstation. She can occasionally climb stairs and ramps but should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, bend/stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can have occasional exposure to extreme cold temperatures under 32 degrees Fahrenheit and vibrations. She can frequently drive, and avoid all exposure to hazardous or fast machinery or unprotected heights.

(TR. 17). At the hearing, the ALJ presented these limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work. (TR. 41-42). Given the limitations, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform her perform her past relevant work as a customer service representative and a mortgage clerk. (TR. 42). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Hillier was not disabled based on her ability to perform her past relevant work. (TR. 20-21).[1]

         III. 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. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201 (10th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         IV. ...


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