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Riley v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 24, 2019

ALFRED LEE RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Alfred Lee Riley, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and 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. 17], and both parties have briefed their positions.[2] For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On October 3, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB or SSI. AR 12-20. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-6. 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. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Following this process, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements for DIB through June 30, 2017 and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 2, 2016, his alleged onset date. AR 14.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from liver disease, other unspecified arthropathies, an affective disorder, and hepatitis C., but, at step three, his 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 14-17.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that he can perform medium work, except he can only occasionally use his left upper extremity to reach overhead, and is “limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks[] with occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public.” Id. at 16. Then, at step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. Id. at 18. Finally, the ALJ found, at step five, that Plaintiff can perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 19. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id. at 20.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Although presented as two separate claims, Plaintiff's overriding argument is that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical evidence because she failed to discuss some evidence, relied selectively on other evidence, and did not properly weigh the medical opinions. See Pl.'s Br. at 6- 15. For brevity, the Court reverses on grounds that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the State agency opinions and does not reach the merits on Plaintiff's remaining arguments.[3]

         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); see also Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that the court only reviews an ALJ's decision “to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied” and in that review, “we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         V. Analysis

         A. Grounds for Reversal - the ALJ's Failure to Discuss or ...


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