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Goodin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2019

GARY GOODIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Gary Goodin 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 disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. 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 filed his DIB application on March 21, 2011. R. 13, 418-20. In his application, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 15, 2008. R. 418. Plaintiff subsequently amended his disability onset date to October 25, 2010. R. 13, 53, 74, 100. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. R. 150-54, 156-58. An initial hearing, held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on October 15, 2013, was rescheduled after Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital. R. 44-49. At a second hearing held on April 2, 2014, Plaintiff testified about his impairments, and the same ALJ ordered additional testing and a consultative psychological examination. R. 50-70. At a third hearing before that ALJ, on October 14, 2014, the ALJ heard the testimony of Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”), and medical expert Howard McClure, MD. R. 71-97, 328. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 26, 2014. R. 123-37.

         On December 30, 2015, the SSA Appeals Council granted review of Plaintiff's case and remanded it to the ALJ for additional development. R. 146-49. Following this remand, the same ALJ held a fourth hearing, on November 2, 2016. R. 98-119. Plaintiff, a VE, and medical experts Kweli Amusa, MD, and Beth Maxwell, MD, testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ issued a revised unfavorable decision on February 15, 2017. R. 10-34.

         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. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his amended onset date of October 25, 2010, and his date last insured of September 30, 2011. R. 16. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of hypertension, diabetes, morbid obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pain disorder, sleep apnea, major depression (recurrent moderate), learning disorder, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and personality disorder. R. 16. 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. 17-22.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all his medically determinable impairments. R. 22-32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), i.e., to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand/walk 6 hours of an 8-ho[ur] workday, and sit 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] is limited to frequent balancing and to occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, pushing/pulling with the upper/lower extremities, and climbing of ramps and stairs. [Plaintiff] should never crawl and climb ladders, ramps and scaffolds. Furthermore, [Plaintiff] should avoid working at unprotected heights, around dangerous moving equipment or machinery or on uneven or unstable work surfaces. Mentally, [Plaintiff] can understand, remember, comprehend and carry out simple work related instructions and tasks. [Plaintiff] is able to work with coworkers and supervisors on a superficial work basis but he cannot work with the public. In addition, [Plaintiff] is able to adapt to routine changes in the work environment.

R. 22. At step four, the ALJ considered the hearing testimony of the VE and found that Plaintiff was not capable of performing his past relevant work as a truck driver. R. 32-33.

         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. 33-34. Relying upon the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the light, unskilled occupations of merchandise marker, routing clerk, and solderer-dipper, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 33-34, 116-17. The ALJ therefore determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 34.

         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. § 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 ...

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