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Stephens v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

MARLAINE E. STEPHENS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Marlaine E. Stephens 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. The Court has reviewed the administrative record (Doc. No. 12, hereinafter “R. ”), and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties. The Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

         Procedural History and Administrative Decision Plaintiff protectively filed her SSI application on February 18, 2015, and ultimately alleged that her disability began on that same date. R. 15, 40, 147-52. The SSA denied her application initially and on reconsideration. R. 64-92. At Plaintiff’s request, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on November 17, 2016, after which the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 14, 2017. R. 12-63.

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in determining Plaintiff was not entitled 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 during the relevant time period. R. 17. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of right-leg tibial fracture post-surgical repair and hardware removal and traumatic arthritis in the right knee. R. 17-19.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). R. 19-20.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) during the relevant period, based on all of her medically determinable impairments, and found:

[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and no crawling. Crouching, kneeling, and climbing ramps or stairs can be done occasionally. [Plaintiff] has no limitations with respect to stooping or balancing. Handling and fingering on the left side can be done frequently. No. exposure to unprotected heights, open flames, dangerous machinery or equipment, or other hazardous conditions (note that not all moving machinery is dangerous, such as machinery where moving parts are shielded).

         R. 20. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 24.

         At step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work experience, and RFC-could perform. R. 25. Relying upon the hearing testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform light unskilled occupations such as booth cashier, ticket taker, and office helper, and that these occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 25. The ALJ therefore determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 26.

         The SSA Appeals Council denied review, R. 1-6, and the ALJ’s unfavorable decision stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. See 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).

         ANALYSIS

         In this action, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the evidence relating to Plaintiff’s gait impairments and that the ALJ’s RFC is not supported by ...


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