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Dunlavey 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 Pamela Dunlavey 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 and disabled widow’s insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, id. §§ 1381-1383f. Having reviewed the administrative record (Doc. No. 11, hereinafter “R. ”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court affirms the Commissioners decision.

         Procedural History and Administrative Decision

         Plaintiff protectively filed her benefits applications in December 2013 and March 2016, ultimately alleging a disability-onset date of April 12, 2013. R. 17, 310-26, 353-60. After her request was denied initially and on reconsideration, R. 17, 87-150, 153-60, two hearings were held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. 37-62, 63-86. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 6, 2017. R. 17-30.

         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, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 12, 2013, the alleged onset date. R. 20. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of polyarticular psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, and obesity. R. 20-22. 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. 22.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) during the relevant period, based on all of her medically determinable impairments, and found that Plaintiff “has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except [Plaintiff] is limited to occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, frequent climbing of ramps and stairs, occasional hazards, and frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling.” R. 22-27. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 27-28.

         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. 28-29. Relying upon the hearing testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform sedentary occupations such as insurance investigator and skip tracer and that these occupations offer jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 29. The ALJ therefore determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 29.

         The SSA Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision. R. 3-8. The ALJ’s unfavorable decision stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 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).


         A. The ALJ’s Step-Three Determination

         First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step three in finding that Plaintiff’s condition failed to meet or equal Listing 14.09(A)(1), which addresses Inflammatory Arthritis, and that this finding is not supported by substantial evidence. See Id . at 8-17.[3]

         1. Listing 14.09(A)(1) and the ...

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