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Hutton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 28, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Cynthia L. Hutton 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 (“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Court has reviewed the administrative record (Doc. No. 12, hereinafter “R. ”), [1] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties. The Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. A separate judgment will be entered.

         Procedural History and Administrative Decision

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on June 7, 2015, alleging disability beginning on January 6, 2015. R. 15, 289-96. The SSA denied her application initially and on reconsideration. R. 186-216, 219-23. At Plaintiff's request, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on January 19, 2017, R. 152-80, after which the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 1, 2017. R. 12-29. The SSA Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's decision, R. 1-7, which now stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in determing Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability-onset date. R. 17. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:

obesity, degenerative disc disease status post surgical repair, left shoulder injury status post November 2016 surgical repair, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome status post surgical repair, and hypertension.

         R. 17-18. The ALJ found the alleged fibromyalgia and stroke with memory loss are not medically determinable impairments and that Plaintiff's tinnitus and mental impairments are not severe. R. 17-19.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 19-20.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) during the relevant period, based on all her medically determinable impairments:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the [RFC] to lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. The claimant can sit for about six hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for at least two hours during an eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead. The claimant can frequently handle and finger.

         R. 21.

         Based on the hearing testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a customer-service representative-a sedentary, semiskilled job with an SVP of 4. R. 28. Thus, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 29; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f).

         Standard of Review

         This Court's judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether correct legal standards were applied. 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) (internal quotation marks 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ” including any evidence “that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, ” in determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). Though a reviewing ...

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