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Chapman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 21, 2019

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


          CHARLES B. GOODWIN United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Margaret A. Chapman 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. 12, hereinafter “R. ”), [1] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on May 31, 2012, and ultimately alleged that her disability began on that same date. R. 44-45, 250-51, 295. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on April 16, 2014. R. 62-78, 93, 103. After the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, Plaintiff sought and was granted review by the SSA Appeals Council. R. 132-36. The Appeals Council remanded the case, citing multiple issues that required resolution. R. 133-35. Following further administrative proceedings and a second hearing before the same ALJ, Plaintiff's DIB application was denied for a second time on July 29, 2016. R. 20-38, 39-61.

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine entitlement to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 31, 2012, the alleged disability-onset date. R. 25. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of status post back fusion, obesity, and anxiety. R. 25. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 25-27.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all her medically determinable impairments. R. 27-31. The ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can occasionally stoop, crouch, and kneel. She can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions.

         R. 27. At step four, the ALJ considered the testimony provided by a vocational expert (“VE”) at the second hearing and found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 31-32.

         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. R. 32-33. Relying again upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform unskilled sedentary occupations such as credit-card clerk, information clerk, or document preparer, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 32-33.

         The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 33. Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 12-17; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.


         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 challenges the ALJ's evaluation, for purposes of determining the RFC, of Plaintiff's subjective ...

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