United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
JOE S. HEARNS JR., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joe S. Hearns Jr. 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 applications
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. ”), and the arguments and
authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the
Commissioner’s decision and remands the case for
HISTORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
filed his DIB application on June 19, 2014, alleging a
disability-onset date of May 5, 2014. R. 15, 174-80.
Following a denial of his application initially and on
reconsideration, a hearing was held before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) on January 31, 2017. R. 15,
29-53, 54-77. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 48-51. The
ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 4, 2017. R.
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 his alleged onset date. R. 17. At step
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe
medically determinable impairments of sinusitis, diabetes
mellitus, tenosynovitis, degenerative joint disease of the
bilateral knees, arthritis of the upper extremities, obesity,
and a history of sarcoidosis. R. 17-18. 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.
next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all his medically determinable
impairments. R. 20-21. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to
perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b). [Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, or pull up to
20 pounds occasionally; stand, walk, or sit, each, for six
hours in an eight-hour workday. However, [Plaintiff] must
avoid pulmonary irritants in the workplace.
R. 20. At step four, the ALJ considered the hearing testimony
of the VE and found that Plaintiff could perform his past
relevant work as a sales clerk and a food inspector. R. 22,
49-50. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R.
22; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(iv), (f).
request for review by the SSA Appeals Council was denied on
July 11, 2017, and the unfavorable determination of the ALJ
stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. R. 1-6;
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
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).
action, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing
to evaluate the impact of functional limitations assessed by
a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”)
physician assistant, (2) improperly evaluating the medical
opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Christopher
Vaughns, MD, and (3) selectively citing the opinion of