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Driehorst v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

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


          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Daniel James Driehorst 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 under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Having reviewed the administrative record (Doc. No. 13, hereinafter “R. ”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner’s decision and remands the matter for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed his DIB application on March 24, 2015, alleging a disability-onset date of April 10, 2010. R. 12, 191-97. After his request was denied initially and on reconsideration, R. 12, 97-123, 128-32, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. 30-96. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 16, 2017. R. 12-24.

         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. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from July 23, 2011 (the day after denial of a previous DIB application filed by Plaintiff) through December 31, 2015 (the date Plaintiff’s insured status expired). R. 14; see Hodges v. Colvin, 568 F. App’x 639, 640 n.1 (10th Cir. 2014) (noting that “the relevant period for assessing disability” commenced “the day after the adjudication on the prior application” and ended on the date the claimant “was last insured for disability purposes”). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease of the shoulders, knees, and right hip; and status-post right-hip replacement and left-knee meniscus repair. R. 14-17.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did 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. R. 17-18.

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

[Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to perform light exertion work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except with his left upper extremity [Plaintiff] could occasionally reach overhead; with his left upper extremity [Plaintiff] could perform unlimited reaching in all other directions (except overhead); with his right upper extremity, [Plaintiff] could perform unlimited reaching in all directions (including overhead reaching); [Plaintiff] had no other physical limitations or restrictions; [Plaintiff] had no mental limitations or restrictions.

R. 18-23.

         At step four, the ALJ considered the hearing testimony of a vocational expert and found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a furniture salesperson and as a household-appliances salesperson, as those jobs are generally performed in the national economy. R. 23-24. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 24. The SSA Appeals Council denied review, R. 1-5, and the ALJ’s unfavorable determination stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. 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 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).


         A. The ALJ’s Evaluation of Plaintiff’s ...

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