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Martin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 14, 2019

NANCY A. 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 applications for 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 Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


         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. 14-26). 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.


         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 his application date of March 6, 2014, his alleged onset date. (TR. 16). At step two, the ALJ determined that Mr. Martin had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; status post lumbar fusion, characterized as failed back syndrome; chronic pain syndrome; and vertigo. (TR. 17). 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. 21).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Martin was unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR. 24). Even so, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). Specifically, the claimant can lift and /or carry up to 10 pounds occasionally, lift and/or carry less than 10 pounds frequently, sit for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and stand and/or walk up to 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. He cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He cannot be exposed to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. He can occasionally operate pedals and foot controls. He is capable of frequent grasping, handling and fine motor manipulation. The claimant would require a sit stand option such that he would be able to stand up at least every 50 to 55 minutes for up to 5 minutes, but would be able to remain on task and attentive to his duties. The claimant can only occasionally walk on uneven surfaces. The claimant can only occasionally reach or work overhead. The claimant would also need to use a cane in the right dominant hand to ambulate.

(TR. 21-22). At the administrative hearing, the ALJ presented the RFC limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 66-68). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) that Mr. Martin could perform. (TR. 67-68). At step five, the ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Mr. Martin was not disabled based on his ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 26).


         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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