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Mitchell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 14, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Dawn Mitchell 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 (“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 15, hereinafter “R. ”) and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.[1]


         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on February 12, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2014, as amended. R. 19, 204-12, 230, 231-33, 242-55. Following denial of Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing. R. 46-85, 114-18, 123-25. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 28, 2016. R. 19-39.

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, . 1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2014, through her date last insured of December 31, 2014. R. 21. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: degenerative disc disease; post 2008 lumbar fusion; osteoarthritis; degenerative joint disease in hip; and asthma. R. 21-24. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 24-25.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiffs residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her impairments. R. 25-38. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work subject to the additional limitations that Plaintiff can:

never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; frequently balance; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; tolerate occasional exposure to environmental irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases.

R. 25; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) (defining “sedentary work”). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work and that transferability of job skills was not a material issue. R. 38.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. Taking into consideration the hearing testimony of a vocational expert regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform occupations such as telephone information clerk, document preparer, and food- and-beverage order clerk, all of which offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 38-39. On this basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2014, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2014, the date last insured. R. 39. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-6; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. This action for judicial review followed.


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008).


         In this action, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ failed to properly consider various medical opinions, resulting in the improper omission of certain restrictions from the RFC assessment. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 18) at 6-20. The Court agrees.

         A. Whether the RFC should have included restrictions ...

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