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Taulbee v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2019

LISA C. TAULBEE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lisa C. Taulbee 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. 12, 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.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         Plaintiff protectively filed her SSI application on February 19, 2015, ultimately alleging disability beginning May 4, 2015. R. 22, 42, 44, 186-191. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on August 31, 2016. R. 40-64, 80-98, 99-118, 121-24, 128-30. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 12, 2016. R. 19-34.

         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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since she had filed her application on February 19, 2015. R. 24. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, degenerative disc disease, migraines, heart disorder, obesity, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. R. 24. 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. 24-25.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 26-32. The ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] is to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and heavy machinery. [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. 26. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 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 upon the testimony provided by a vocational expert (“VE”) 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 bakery worker, collator operator, or mail sorter, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 33.

         The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 33-34. 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. 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         ANALYSIS

         In this action, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of consulting psychologist Julie Wallace, PhD, and failed to explain the weight he afforded her ...


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