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Gee v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 5, 2018

ANGELIETTE GEE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. 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 application for 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 AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following two administrative hearings, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 26-41). 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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 6, 2014, her alleged onset date. (TR. 29). At step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Gee had the following severe impairments: obesity; major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, with psychotic features; and intermittent explosive disorder. (TR. 29). 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. 32).

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

[P]erform “light work, ” as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except that the claimant can only: occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; make only simple, work related decisions; deal with only occasional changes in work processes and environment; have no contact with the general public; have only incidental, superficial work-related type contact with co-workers and supervisors, i.e., brief, succinct, cursory, concise communication relevant to the task being performed.

(TR. 35) (footnote omitted). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR. 39). As a result, the ALJ made additional findings at step five. There, the ALJ presented several limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 78). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 79).[1] The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Gee was not disabled based on her ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 40-41).[2]

         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. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in evaluating: (1) the RFC and (2) “other source” evidence.

         V. THE RFC

         As stated, the ALJ determined Ms. Gee suffered from severe impairments involving major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, with psychotic features; and intermittent explosive disorder. (TR. 29). Ms. Gee alleges that the ALJ failed to include limitations in the RFC stemming from these severe impairments. (ECF No. 16:3-12). The Court disagrees.

         A. ALJ's Duty in Assessing the RFC

         Once a claimant's impairments are deemed severe at step two, the ALJ has a duty to discuss their impact throughout the remainder of the disability determination. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(2). Indeed, in formulating the RFC, the ALJ must discuss the combined effect of all the claimant's medically determinable impairments, both severe and nonsevere. See Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1065 (10th Cir. 2013). However, “a finding that an impairment is severe at step two is not determinative of the claimant's RFC.” Johnson v. Berryhill, 679 Fed.Appx. 682, 687 (10th Cir. 2017).

         “The question is not whether the RFC recounts or lists the ‘severe' impairments found at step two, but whether the RFC accounts for the work-related limitations that flow from those impairments.” Cavalier v. Colvin, 13-CV-651-FHM, 2014 WL 7408430, at *2 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 30, 2014). In assessing an individual's RFC, the ALJ must consider the limitations and restrictions imposed by a claimant's severe impairments and express any limitations in terms of specific, work-related activities he or she is able to perform. See SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *6-7 (July 2, 1996).

         B. No Error in the RFC Assessment

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) “omit[ted] critical portions of [medical records] which include[d] the functionally distinct limitations” and (2) the RFC should have reflected such limitations. (ECF No. 16:5-12). The Court rejects both arguments.

         First, Ms. Gee claims that the ALJ failed to discuss evidence which reflected Plaintiff's subjective reports of:

• crying,
• blacking ...

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