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Wilson v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 13, 2019

JAMES WILSON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, James Wilson, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of disability insurance benefits (DIB). This matter has been referred by United States District Judge Stephen P. Friot for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), 636(b)(3). The Commissioner filed the Administrative Record (AR), [Doc. No. 12], and both parties briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 12, 2016, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB. See AR 10. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 95, 107. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated March 21, 2018. AR 7-26. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 16, 2015, the alleged onset date. AR 13.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease of the spine status-post 2012 and August 2016 surgical corrections; ischemic heart disease status-post 2009 single vessel bypass procedure and July 2015 re-do of single vessel bypass procedure and aortic valve replacement; diabetes mellitus; obesity (body mass index [“BMI”] 32 through 34); essential hypertension; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and sleep apnea.” Id.[2] At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 13-14.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light exertion work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except [Plaintiff] must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. [Plaintiff] has no other work-related limitations or restrictions.

AR 14-19. After finding that the Medical-Vocational Rules supporting a finding that Plaintiff is “not disabled” whether or not Plaintiff has any past relevant work, the ALJ proceeded past Step Four. AR 19. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-small products assembler, office helper, and electronic bench worker. AR 20-21. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 21.

         III. 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). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it. Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations 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 does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IV. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff asserts the ALJ did not properly consider his diagnosis of depression. Plaintiff further contends the ALJ did not properly consider the disability determination from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Court recommends that this matter be reversed and ...

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