United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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 denying Plaintiff's
application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The
Commissioner has answered and filed a transcript of the
administrative record (hereinafter TR.). The parties have
consented to jurisdiction over this matter by a United States
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
parties have briefed their positions, and the matter is now
at issue. Based on the Court's review of the record and
the issues presented, the Court AFFIRMS the
and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration
(SSA) denied Plaintiff's application for benefits.
Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 23-32). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(TR. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final
decision of the Commissioner.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required
by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart,
431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 23, 2015,
her application date. (TR. 25). At step two, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Dennington had the following severe
impairments: “major depressive disorder, generalized
anxiety disorder, rule out panic disorder, and degenerative
disc disease, hip disorder.” (TR. 25). At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet
or medically equal any of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (TR. 28).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Dennington retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
[L]ift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently. The claimant sit for about six hours during an
eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for about six hours
during an eight-hour workday. The claimant can frequently
climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant
can perform simple and some complex tasks. The claimant can
relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work
basis. The claimant can adapt to work situations. The
claimant can have frequent contact with the general public
(semi-skilled). 20 CFR 416.967(b).
(TR. 29). At the administrative hearing, the ALJ questioned
Ms. Dennington and a vocational expert (VE) to assess
Plaintiff's past relevant work. (TR. 45-49, 58-69). In
doing so, the VE testified that an individual with Ms.
Dennington's RFC was capable of performing her past work
as a personal caregiver, and a motel cleaner, as she had
performed those jobs. (TR. 63). Thus, at step four, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Dennington was not disabled based on her
ability to perform these past jobs, as she had actually
performed them. (TR. 31-32).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews the Commissioner's final “decision to
determin[e] whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). Under the
“substantial evidence” standard, a court looks to
an existing administrative record and asks whether it
contains “sufficien[t] evidence” to support the
agency's factual determinations. Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
“Substantial evidence … is more than a mere
scintilla … and means only-such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct.
at 1154 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable
rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in
disability cases, the court will “neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the
agency.” Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201
(10th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
appeal, Ms. Dennington alleges multiple errors at step four.
Dennington alleges that the ALJ erred at phases one and two
of step four, which resulted in a lack of substantial
evidence to support his ultimate finding at step four. The
The ALJ's Duties at Step Four/Plaintiff's
four, the Tenth Circuit has mandated that the ALJ perform a
specific three-phase analysis:
In the first phase, the ALJ must evaluate a claimant's
physical and mental residual functional capacity (RFC),
… and in the second phase, he must determine the
physical and mental demands of the claimant's past
relevant work. In the final phase, the ALJ determines whether
the claimant has the ability to meet the job demands found in
phase two despite the mental and/or physical limitations
found in phase one[.] At each of these phases, the ALJ must
make specific findings.
Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir.
1996) (internal citations omitted).
assessing the RFC, the ALJ must consider the limitations and
restrictions imposed by a claimant's impairments, as set
forth in the objective record and as alleged by the claimant,
and express any limitations in terms of specific,
work-related mental activities he or she is able to perform.
See Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II and XVI:
Assessing Residual Functional Capacity in Initial Claims, SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5-7 (July 2, 1996).
Dennington has argued that the ALJ erred at phase one by: (1)
engaging in impermissible selective review of two State
Agency psychologists' opinions and (2) failing to credit
certain testimony at the hearing. (ECF No. 16:10-12).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at phase two by: (1)
ignoring Plaintiff's testimony regarding the exertional
level at which she performed her past job as a personal
caregiver and (2) concluding that she had performed her past
job of motel cleaner at a level which qualified as
“substantial gainful activity.” (ECF No.
16:12-13). Because of the errors at phases one and two, Ms.
Dennington contends that substantial evidence does not exist
to support the phase three findings that Plaintiff could
return to her past relevant work.