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Geist v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 7, 2019

SHAWN GEIST, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         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 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).

         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.


         On September 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits. (TR. 31). The application was denied at the initial level on December 14, 2015 and was not thereafter appealed. (TR. 31). On May 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a second application for Title II disability insurance benefits, alleging that he became disabled on September 24, 2014. (TR. 31). Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's second application for benefits. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 31-45). In doing so, the ALJ stated that he would “only consider the period beginning December 15, 2015, the beginning of the un-adjudicated period” because of the preclusive and binding effect of the first application's denial which was not appealed. (TR. 31). Because Mr. Geist had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2015, he was required to establish disability on or before that date to be entitled to a period of disability. (TR. 31). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from September 24, 2014 through December 31, 2015. (TR. 44).

         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 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. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of disability-his alleged onset date of September 24, 2014 through his date last insured of December 31, 2015. (TR. 34). At step two, the ALJ determined that Mr. Geist had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the knees; fibromyalgia; back disorder; asthma; migraines; right shoulder disorder; obstructive sleep apnea; chronic maxillary sinusitis; obesity; major depressive disorder; and bipolar disorder. (TR. 34). At step three, the ALJ found that during the period of disability, 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 during the period of disability. (TR. 35).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that through the date last insured, Mr. Geist retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[L]ift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can 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 occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead with his upper right extremity. The claimant is to avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, gases, fumes, odors, and poor ventilation. The claimant can understand, remember, carry out simple routine, and repetitive tasks. The claimant can relate to others on a superficial work basis. The claimant can adapt to a work setting.

(TR. 38). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Geist could not perform any past relevant work. (TR. 43).

         At step five, the ALJ presented the RFC limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform during the period of disability. (TR. 75-76). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 76). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Mr. Geist was not disabled at step five based on his ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 44).


         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. ...

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