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Hudson v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 28, 2019

RYKI G. HUDSON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,[1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Ryki G. Hudson 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. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10, hereinafter “R.___ ”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         Procedural History And Administrative Decision

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on May 22, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2014. R. 10, 268-71. Following denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 20, 2016. R. 10, 64-101, 123-27, 129-31. A supplemental hearing was held on May 2, 2017, at which a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. 10, 42-63. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 15, 2017. R. 7-36.

         As relevant here, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine entitlement 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 September 1, 2014, the alleged onset date. R. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity and schizophrenia. R. 12-19. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's condition did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 19-21.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of her medically determinable impairments. R. 21-28. The ALJ found that

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except sit 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; stand/walk 2 hours in an 8 hour workday; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can perform simple tasks with routine supervision, no public contact or customer service work; able to interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis; able to adapt to work situations.

         R. 21-28. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. R. 28.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. R. 28-29. Relying upon the VE's testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled sedentary occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform the light, unskilled occupation of office helper and the sedentary, unskilled occupations of table worker and document preparer. The ALJ additionally found that such occupations offered jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 29. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 29.

         Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Standard of Review

         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, ” “to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed 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).


         In her request for judicial review, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Everett Bayne, MD, and those of state-agency psychologists. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 21) at 10-17.

         A. The ALJ's Assessment of Dr. ...

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