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Denman v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 28, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Steven Denman 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 supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Upon review of the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R. ”), and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         Procedural History and Administrative Decision

         Plaintiff filed his SSI application on October 6, 2015, alleging that his disability began on that same date. R. 11, 165-73. Following denial of his application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on November 7, 2016. R. 25-42, 43-51, 52-61. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 4, 2017. R. 8-24.

         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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since he had filed his application on October 6, 2015. R. 13. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: major depressive disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. R. 13-14. 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. 14-16.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of his medically determinable impairments. R. 16-17. The ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: [Plaintiff] can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. [Plaintiff] can relate to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis. [Plaintiff] can have no contact with the general public. [Plaintiff] can respond to usual work situations.

         R. 16. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 17.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of his age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. R. 18-19. Relying upon the testimony provided by a vocational expert (“VE”) regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled occupational base caused by Plaintiff's additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform unskilled occupations such as machine feeder, film touch-up screener, or sorter, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 18-19.

         The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 19. Plaintiff's request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied, and the ALJ's unfavorable decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See R. 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         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 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 this action, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints, ignored a third-party function report, and misstated Plaintiff's GAF ...

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