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Barham v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2019

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



         Plaintiff Lori Leigh Barham 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, and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, id. §§ 1381-1383f. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R. ”), [1]and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on June 5, 2015. R. 12, 183-95. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of February 28, 2015. R. 12, 183, 190. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on September 7, 2016. R. 29-49, 107-11, 112-15, 120-22, 123-25. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 45-48. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 31, 2017. R. 9-23.

         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, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of: degenerative disc disease, status post lumbar fusion; obesity; chronic pain syndrome; migraines; hidradenitis suppurativa; bipolar disorder; major depressive disorder; and attention deficit disorder. R. 14-18. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs 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. 18-19.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiffs residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all her medically determinable impairments. R. 19-22. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to

lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for at least 2 hours during an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [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 occasional contact with the general public.

R. 19. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work. R. 22.

         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. 22-23. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the sedentary, unskilled occupations of table worker, document preparer, and call-out operator, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 22-23.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied on December 26, 2017, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. R. 1-6; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 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 alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to consider the limitations stemming from Plaintiff's hidradenitis suppurativa, and not properly evaluating whether Plaintiff's condition met or equaled Listing 8.06; (2) utilizing “boilerplate” language in evaluating the opinions of nonexamining state-agency physicians; and (3) assigning insufficient weight ...

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