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Whitehead v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 28, 2019

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


          Charles B. Goodwin, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Arjuna Gandiva Whitehead 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 application 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. ”)[1], and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff was found disabled in December 2008 due to the limitations caused by his schizophrenia. R. 16, 59. An agency redetermination performed in 2015 found that Plaintiff had shown medical improvement related to his ability to work, and his disability benefits ceased in December 2015. R. 59. Plaintiff protectively filed a new SSI application on January 7, 2016. R. 16, 159-68. Plaintiff initially alleged a disability-onset date of July 1, 2008. R. 16, 159. Plaintiff subsequently amended his alleged onset date to January 7, 2016. R. 16, 37. Following a denial of his application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on January 9, 2017. R. 31-58, 89-92, 98-100. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 53-55. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 30, 2017. R. 13-26.

         The Commissioner of Social Security 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 his amended onset date. R. 18. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of: schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”); and generalized anxiety disorder. R. 18. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the nonsevere impairments of obesity, vision disorder, hypertension, and an umbilical hernia. R. 18-19. 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. 19-20.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all his medically determinable impairments. R. 20-25. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: [Plaintiff] can understand, remember and carry[] out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. [Plaintiff] can relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis. [Plaintiff] can respond to usual work situations. [Plaintiff] can have no contact with the general public.

R. 20. At step four, the ALJ considered the hearing testimony of the VE and found that Plaintiff was not capable of performing any past relevant work. R. 25.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of his age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. R. 25-26. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the medium, unskilled occupations of laundry worker and machine packager, and the light, unskilled occupation of inspector/packer, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 25-26, 53-54.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied on October 26, 2017, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. R. 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.


         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 argues that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly consider the functional limitations stemming from Plaintiff's obesity and hernia, (2) failing to consider functional limitations assessed by Plaintiff's physician Matthew McTague, DO, (3) failing to comprehend the full extent of the restrictions caused by Plaintiff's schizophrenia and not assessing functional RFC limitations consistent with Plaintiff's condition, and (4) improperly ...

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