United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
CHELSEA D. RILEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Chelsea D. Riley 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
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1383f. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc.
No. 10, hereinafter “R. ”),  and the arguments
and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses
the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for
HISTORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
protectively filed her SSI application on October 10, 2013,
alleging disability beginning September 8, 1998. R. 15,
314-20. Following denial of her application initially and on
reconsideration, several hearings were conducted before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. 42-88,
89-95, 96-131, 132, 141. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on July 27, 2016. R. 12-41.
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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since she had filed her application on October 10, 2013. R.
17. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the
medically determinable impairments of: history of
hydrocephalus with ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement with
multiple revisions; asthma and various allergies;
degenerative disc disease; multiple arthralgias, with
complaint of hip and shoulder pain, status post right
shoulder surgery in 2011; headaches; history of extraocular
muscle surgery at the age of five, with residual absence of
depth perception; pain disorder with psychological
components; cognitive disorder; and expressive language
disorder. R. 17-27. The ALJ found that these impairments were
severe “singly and/or in combination.” R. 17. 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 (the “Listings”). R. 27-29.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her medically
determinable impairments. R. 29-33. The ALJ found:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 CFR 416.967(b) except that [Plaintiff] is further limited
to frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling,
balancing, and climbing of ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and
scaffolds, as well as limited to frequent use of the right
upper extremity for reaching overhead. [Plaintiff] also
should not perform tasks requiring depth perception. In
addition, [Plaintiff] should avoid more than occasional
exposure to extreme heat, cold, vibration, as well as
occasional exposure to pulmonary irritants. [Plaintiff] also
should avoid more than occasional exposure to workplace
hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving
machinery. [Plaintiff] also is limited to performing simple
and routine task[s] consistent with unskilled work, with
learning of task[s] provided through verbal instruction and
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past
relevant work. R. 33.
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. 34-35. Relying upon testimony provided by a
vocational expert (“VE”) at the third hearing
regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled light
occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional
limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform
unskilled light occupations such as basket filler, laundry
bagger, and night cleaner, and that such occupations offer
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. R. 34-35.
therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the
relevant period. R. 35. 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. 1-5; 20 C.F.R. §
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).
raises several challenges to the denial of benefits,
including the ALJ's failure to conduct a proper analysis
and provide substantial evidence for her step-three finding.
See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 15) at 6-7, 12-13;
Pl.'s Reply (Doc. No. 20) at 7-8. Because the Court
concludes that remand is required by the ALJ's errors at
step three, this decision does not address the additional
challenges, as they “may be ...