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Brown v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 10, 2019

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



         Plaintiff, Gregory Brown, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) denial of his application for supplemental security income (SSI). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR), [Doc. No. 12], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural Background

         On March 27, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to SSI. AR 12-29. The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-7. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II.The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 12, 2015, his amended alleged onset date. AR 14.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: “lumbar spondylosis without myelopathy; dysthymic disorder; mild mental retardation, provisional; and, personality disorder.” Id. Then, at step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id. at 19.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that he:

[can] perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except [he] can frequently lift/carry/push/pull 25 pounds, and occasionally lift/carry/push/pull 50 pounds. [Plaintiff] can sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday and can stand/walk 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. [He] cannot climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds. [He] can perform simple to detailed tasks with routine supervision. [He] can have no public contact. [He] can perform no customer service work. [He] is able to relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis. [He] is able to adapt to work situations.

Id. at 22-23.

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had past relevant work as an air conditioner assembler and that he could return to that work as it is generally performed. Id. at 28. Alternatively, the ALJ found, at step five, that Plaintiff can also perform medium, unskilled work as a salvage laborer, a hand launder, and as a meat clerk, work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 29. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges that: (1) the ALJ failed to assign any specific weight to two consultative examiners' opinions; (2) he cannot perform his past relevant work; (3) the ALJ erred in finding he had transferrable skills; and (4) the ALJ applied the wrong “grid rule.” Pl.'s Br. at 6-13.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009). While the Court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, it does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations and citations omitted). However, “it nevertheless may be appropriate to supply a missing dispositive finding under the rubric of harmless error in the right exceptional circumstance, i.e., where based on the material the administrative law judge did at least consider (just not properly), we could confidently say that no reasonable administrative factfinder, following the correct analysis, could have resolved the factual matter in any other way.” Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1144 (10th Cir. 2004).

         V. Analysis

         A. The ALJ's Failure to Assign any Weight to Two Consultative Examiners' Opinions

         In part, Plaintiff seeks reversal on grounds that the ALJ failed to specify what weight, if any, he gave to the opinions of Dr. Brandon Brown, M.D., and Dr. R. Keith Green, Ph.D. See Pl.'s Br. at 6-8. Relatedly, Plaintiff believes the ALJ ignored Dr. Brown's finding that Plaintiff had limited right and left knee flexion. Id. at 7. The Court agrees that, generally, an ALJ should make it “clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the . . . medical opinion and the reason for that weight.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d 1326, 1332 (10th Cir. 2016). However, any error here is harmless.

         1. Dr. Brown

         Dr. Brown examined Plaintiff once, at the SSA's request. AR 382-88. In relevant part, Dr. Brown assessed Plaintiff ...

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