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Rill v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 20, 2019

JOHN MICHAEL RILL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, 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 application for disability insurance 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 AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a decision finding Plaintiff was under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from October 13, 2014 through November 4, 2015, at which time Plaintiff's disability ended due to medical improvement. (TR. 34, 35). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not become disabled again since November 5, 2015. (TR. 40-41). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-6). 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. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 13, 2014, the date Plaintiff became disabled. (TR. 26). At step two, the ALJ determined that, from October 13, 2014 through November 4, 2015, the period during which Plaintiff was under a disability, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: right leg amputation, degenerative disc disease, diabetes, and obesity. (TR. 26). At step three, the ALJ found that from October 13, 2014 through November 4, 2015, the severity of Plaintiff's right leg amputation met the criteria of section 105.B, one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the Listings). (TR. 33). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was under a disability from October 13, 2014 through November 4, 2015. (TR. 34).

         Because the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's disability did not continue through the date of the decision, she proceeded to the additional eight-step evaluation process for determining medical improvement. See Newbold v. Colvin, 718 F.3d 1257, 1261, 1262 (10th Cir. 2013) (describing the process for evaluating disability claims when a medical improvement has occurred); 20 C.F.R. § 1594(f). Having previously found that Plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful activity, at step two the ALJ determined that beginning November 5, 2015, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listing. (TR. 34). At steps three and four, the ALJ determined that medical improvement had occurred on November 4, 2015, and the improvement was related to Plaintiff's ability to work. (TR. 35). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not developed any new impairment since November 4, 2015 and, thus, Plaintiff's current severe impairments were the same as during the period from October 13, 2014 through November 4, 2015. (TR. 34).

         The ALJ next found that Plaintiff was not capable of performing his past relevant work. (TR. 39). The ALJ further concluded that, beginning November 5, 2015, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, with the following additional limitations:

He can lift, carry, push, or pull ten pounds occasionally and less than that frequently. [Plaintiff] can stand or walk two out of eight hours total. He can sit six out of eight hours total. [Plaintiff] uses a cane for walking and balance. [Plaintiff] should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds nor kneel, crouch, or crawl. [Plaintiff] occasionally can climb stairs, balance, or stoop. He occasionally can operate foot pedals with the right lower extremity.

(TR. 35).

         With this RFC, the ALJ made additional findings at step eight. The ALJ consulted with a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Given the limitations presented by the ALJ, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 40). Relying upon the testimony of the VE and based on his ability to perform the identified jobs, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on November 5, 2015, and he had not become disabled again since that date. (TR. 40).

         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, -- U.S. --, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019). ‚ÄúSubstantial evidence . . . is more than a mere scintilla . . . ...


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