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Halley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 23, 2019

RONDA MARIE HALLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHON T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff 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 applications 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).

         The 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 REVERSES AND REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications for benefits. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-27). 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.

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ 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. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 18, 2016, her alleged onset date. (TR. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Halley had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; scoliosis; depressive mood disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. (TR. 17). 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. 21).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Halley retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions but not detailed instructions; only occasional interaction with the public.

(TR. 23). At the administrative hearing, a vocational expert (VE) testified regarding Plaintiff's past relevant work. (TR. 43-46). In doing so, the VE testified that an individual with Ms. Halley's RFC was capable of performing her past work as a housekeeper, as that job is generally performed in the national economy and the jobs of kitchen helper and industrial sweeper, as Ms. Halley had performed those jobs. (TR. 44-45). Thus, at step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Halley was not disabled based on her ability to perform these past jobs. (TR. 26).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This 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).

         While 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).

         IV. ISSUE PRESENTED

         On appeal, Ms. Halley alleges the ALJ erred in evaluating a medical ...


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