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Denning v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 19, 2019

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



         Plaintiff Travis Denning 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. 11, hereinafter “R. ”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.


         Plaintiff protectively filed his DIB application on October 15, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of January 12, 2015. R. 13, 178-79. After his request was denied initially and on reconsideration, R. 13, 56-67, 68-84, a video hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on August 24, 2017. R. 28-55. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 49-54. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 17, 2017. R. 10-27.


         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 January 12, 2015, the alleged disability onset date. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and left shoulder degenerative joint disease status post rotator cuff. R. 15-16. The ALJ additionally found that Plaintiff’s headaches, essential hypertension, chronic pain syndrome, and tinea versicolor were nonsevere. R. 16. At step three, the ALJ determined 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. 16.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of his medically determinable impairments. R. 16-19. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except [Plaintiff] can stand or walk up to four hours and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can frequently balance and occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and he can do overhead reaching bilaterally.

R. 16. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 19.

         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. 20-21. Relying upon the VE’s testimony regarding the degree of erosion to the unskilled light occupational base caused by Plaintiff’s additional limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform light occupations such as cashier II and small product assembler, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 20-21. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 21.

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


         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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