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Moore v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

BRADLEY MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Bradley Moore 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, id. §§ 1381-1383f. 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.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his SSI application on March 4, 2012, ultimately alleging a disability onset date of March 4, 2012. R. 28, 48, 110, 368. Following denial of his application initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on September 10, 2013. R. 26-47, 54-57, 63-64. In addition to Plaintiff, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 44-47. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 27, 2013, and the SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. R. 1-4, 5-22.

         Plaintiff appealed the Commissioner’s decision to this Court, and on May 26, 2016, this Court reversed the Commissioner’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. R. 442, 443-55. On remand, a hearing was conducted before the ALJ on May 2, 2017. R. 395-410. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing, along with a vocational expert. R. 404-10. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 19, 2015. R. 365-87. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s unfavorable decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 360-64; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. This action for judicial review followed.

         Administrative Decision

         As 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. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 4, 2012. R. 370. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, obesity, benign positional vertigo, depressive disorder NOS, and anxiety disorder NOS. R. 371. 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. 371-73.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all of his medically determinable impairments (“MDIs”). R. 373-85. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to

lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday and can stand and walk for about 6 hours during an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] is to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and machinery. [Plaintiff] can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. [Plaintiff] can respond appropriately to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis. [Plaintiff] can have no contact with the general public. [Plaintiff] can respond appropriately to usual work situations.

R. 373. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 385.

         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. 385-86. 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 office clerk, mail clerk, and collator operator, and that such occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 386. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. R. 386.

         Standard of Review

         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, ” “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).

         Analysis

         In this action, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ (1) improperly evaluated the medical opinion of Joe Shaleen, M.A., L.P.C., and (2) erroneously excluded functional limitations from the RFC related to Plaintiff’s ...


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