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Stephanie E. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 18, 2019

STEPHANIE E., Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          FRANK H. MCCARTHY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Stephanie E., seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying disability benefits.[2] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the decision contains a sufficient basis to determine that the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 993 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).

         Background

         Plaintiff was 40 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 43 on the date of the denial decision. Plaintiff has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, [R. 41], and her past work experience includes a veterans’ service representative. [R. 55]. Plaintiff claims to have become disabled as of September 24, 2014[3] due to vestibular migraines, Hashimoto’s disease, degenerative disc disease, and bulging discs in lower back. [R. 43].

         The ALJ’s Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments relating to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and obesity. Non-severe impairments include asthma, status post surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and history of migraine headaches. [R. 17]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary exertional work as she is able to lift and/or carry ten pounds occasionally and up to ten pounds frequently. Plaintiff is able to stand and/or walk at least two hours in an eight-hour workday and sit at least six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff should avoid hazards such as heights, open machinery, ladders, or scaffolds. Plaintiff should not drive as part of work. Plaintiff is able to perform work requiring occasional balancing, stooping and kneeling, however, should avoid work above the shoulder. [R. 19]. The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a veterans’ service representative. Further, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined at step five that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [R. 26-27]. The case was thus decided at step four of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled with an alternative step five finding. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff’s Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ: 1) failed to properly consider Plaintiff’s allegations; 2) finding that Plaintiff’s migraines did not equal Listing 11.02 is not supported by substantial evidence; 3) failed to properly consider the medical opinions; and 4) RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence. [Dkt. 13');">13');">13');">13, p. 4].

         Analysis

         Plaintiff’s Allegations

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly consider her subjective complaints and symptoms concerning migraine headaches. [Dkt. 13');">13');">13');">13, p. 4-8]. Plaintiff contends that when evaluating the impact of her allegations, the ALJ only considered the objective evidence. [Dkt. 13');">13');">13');">13, p. 5]. The ALJ must also consider other evidence including activities of daily living, location of pain, aggravating factors, medication, and treatment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3). [Dkt. 13');">13');">13');">13, p. 6]. The ALJ did not discuss any of the emergency room visits made because of headaches, [R. 470, 474, 478, 482, 487, 491], the various medications used to treat Plaintiff’s migraines, or her frequent and consistent complaints of migraines. Further, Plaintiff’s activities were not inconsistent with her allegations. [Dkt. 13');">13');">13');">13, p. 6].

         Although the Social Security Administration has eliminated the use of the term “credibility” from the agency’s sub-regulatory policy, the agency continues to evaluate a disability claimant’s symptoms using a two-step process: First, we must consider whether there is an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce an individual’s symptoms, such as pain. Second, once an underlying physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce an individual’s symptoms is established, we evaluate the intensity and persistence of those symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit an individual’s ability to perform work-related activities . . . . Soc. Sec. Ruling (SSR) 16-3p; Titles II & XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims, 2016 WL 1119029 at 2 (Mar. 16, 2016) (superseding SSR 96-7p; Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual’s Statements, 1996 WL 374186 (July 2, 1996)). The two-step process substantially restates the prior two-step process set ...


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