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Johnson v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 16, 2019

PATRICIA SUZANNE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] 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 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 application for benefits. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-25). 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. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity between her alleged onset date of June 4, 2015 through December 31, 2016, her date last insured. (TR. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Johnson had the following severe impairments: arthralgias; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; hypertension; obesity; and Major Depressive 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. 18).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that during the relevant period, Ms. Johnson retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except no more than occasional exposure to extreme temperatures, environmental, and respiratory irritants and humidity; no more than simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

(TR. 19-20). At the administrative hearing, a vocational expert (VE) testified that Ms. Johnson had performed past relevant work as a “ticket seller, ” which was classified in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) under code # 211.462-030. (TR. 54-55). The VE also stated that this job was performed at the “light” exertional level, with a specific vocational preparation level (SVP) of 2, and was considered “unskilled” work. (TR. 54-55). The ALJ then asked the VE whether Plaintiff could perform this past relevant work, given the limitations in the RFC. (TR. 55). The VE replied affirmatively. (TR. 55). The ALJ then adopted the VE's testimony and concluded that Ms. Johnson was not disabled at step four. (TR. 24).

         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. ...


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