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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 5, 2018

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



         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 child's insurance benefits 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 Commissioner's decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further administrative development.


         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following an administrative hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Douglas S. Stults issued an unfavorable decision on May 10, 2016. (TR. 20-35). The Appeals Council (AC) denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 30, 2017. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.


         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. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 12, 2013, the date Plaintiff attained the age of 18. (TR. 23). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Johnson had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder; borderline intellectual functioning; learning disorder; oppositional defiant disorder; reactive attachment disorder; and borderline personality disorder. (TR. 23). 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. 24-26). At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Johnson retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional functional limitations: understand, remember, and carry out simple, repetitive, rote-type instructions: deal with only occasional changes in work processes and environment; perform a job that requires very little, if any, independent judgment; have no contact with the general public; have only incidental, superficial work-related type contact with coworkers and supervisors, i.e., brief, succinct, cursory, concise communication relevant to the task being performed; and cannot tolerate "teamwork" type jobs, in that the claimant cannot work in conjunction with a coworker on any particular job task or duty.

         (TR. 26). The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work. (TR. 33). At step five, 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 given her RFC. (TR. 33-35, 98-104). Given these limitations, the VE identified seven unskilled jobs Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 33-35).[1] The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE, and found that Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date of July 13, 1995 through the date of the decision. (TR. 34-35).


         On appeal, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ (1) did not meet his burden at step five of the sequential evaluation by finding that Plaintiff could perform jobs with work-related mental requirements that exceeded Plaintiffs RFC[2], and (2) further erred at step five by assessing Plaintiff as being capable of performing work that was “too skilled” for Plaintiff to perform. (ECF No. 21:7-12).


         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. ...

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