United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PURCETL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.
The Commissioner has answered the Complaint and filed the
administrative record (hereinafter AR), and the parties have
briefed the issues. The matter has been referred to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings
consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the
following reasons, it is recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for
further administrative development.
Administrative History and Agency Decision
application, Plaintiff alleged she was disabled beginning on
January 2, 2014. (AR 18, 179). Plaintiff alleged she was
disabled due to a back injury, a right arm/wrist injury,
depression, migraines, and neck pain. (AR 225). Initially and
on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied
Plaintiff's application for benefits. (AR 106-110,
filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on May 18, 2017. (AR 122-123).
Plaintiff appeared and testified at an administrative hearing
conducted on October 13, 2017. (AR 29-73). Plaintiff
testified concerning her usual daily activities, symptoms,
functional abilities, medications, and medical treatment. A
vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. (AR
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process,
required by agency regulations, to determine whether
Plaintiff had been disabled at any time during the relevant
period. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729,
731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining process); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. (AR 18). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had
the severe, medically determinable impairments of a spinal
disorder and a history of right arm surgery. (AR 18). The ALJ
found Plaintiff had the non-severe medically determinable
impairments of migraines and depression. (AR 18). At step
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. part
404, subpart P, appendix 1. (AR 19-20).
next step, the ALJ considered the medical and nonmedical
evidence in the record and determined Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; frequently climb ramps and stairs; frequently
balance, stoop, knee, crouch, or crawl; and frequently use
the right upper extremity for handling. [Plaintiff] is
limited to jobs which can be performed while using a cane or
motorized wheelchair for ambulation, and she can have no
exposure to hazards, such as hazardous moving machinery, raw
chemicals or solutions, and unprotected heights.
(AR 20). At step four of the sequential evaluation the ALJ
relied on the hearing testimony of the VE, who, in turn,
relied on the description of Plaintiff's past relevant
work contained in the U.S. Department of Labor's
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). After
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff could
perform her past relevant work as a customer service
representative. (AR 23, 65-68).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision on April 3, 2018. (AR 6-10). Therefore, the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).
raises two claims in support of reversing the
Commissioner's decision. Specifically, Plaintiff argues
the ALJ (1) failed to adequately consider the impact of
Plaintiff's migraine headaches when assessing the RFC,
and (2) inappropriately relied upon the finding that
Plaintiff's mental impairments were non-severe to justify
the lack of any work-related mental limitations in the RFC.
Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 20) at 5-11.
General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review
Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision
is 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); Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760
(10th Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v.
Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quotations
and citations omitted). The “determination of whether
the ALJ's ruling is supported by substantial evidence
must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Consequently,