United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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 denying Plaintiff’s
application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The
Commissioner has answered and filed a transcript of the
administrative record (hereinafter TR.___). The parties have
consented to jurisdiction over this matter by a United States
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
parties have briefed their positions, and the matter is now
at issue. Based on the Court’s review of the record and
the issues presented, the Court REVERSES AND
REMANDS the Commissioner’s decision.
December 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability benefits alleging an onset date of August 2, 2009.
(TR. 88). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the
application at the initial and reconsideration levels, and on
October 3, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an
unfavorable decision. (TR. 88-96). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review, and Ms. Howry did not
file an appeal in federal court. (TR. 48-49).
March 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a second application for
disability benefits alleging an onset date of August 9, 2009.
(TR. 24). Later, Plaintiff amended her onset date to October
4, 2014-the day following the date of the first unfavorable
decision. (TR. 24). Plaintiff’s date last insured was
December 31, 2014. (TR. 25-26). Thus, the relevant period of
disability for the second application was October 4, 2014
through December 31, 2014. See Hamlin v. Barnhart,
365 F.3d 1208, 1213 (10th Cir. 2004) (noting that the
relevant period for assessing disability ran from the day
after the adjudication on the prior application to the last
disability insured date).
and on reconsideration, the SSA denied Plaintiff’s
second application for benefits. Following a hearing, an ALJ
issued another unfavorable decision. (TR. 24-32). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (TR.
10-12). Thus, the second decision of the ALJ became the final
decision of the Commissioner and the subject of the instant
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required
by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart,
431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did
not engage in substantial gainful activity between her
amended alleged onset date of October 4, 2014 through
December 31, 2014, her date last insured. (TR. 27). At step
two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Howry had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy and osteopenia. (TR. 27). At step three, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or
medically equal any of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (TR. 27).
four, the ALJ concluded that during the relevant period, Ms.
Howry retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl,
and climb ramps and stairs; is unable to climb ladders,
ropes, and scaffolding; can occasionally reach overhead with
the bilateral upper extremities; and can frequently, but not
constantly, handle and finger bilaterally.
(TR. 28). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Howry was
unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR. 30). Thus, the
ALJ proceeded to step five and presented the RFC limitations
to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were
other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could
perform. (TR. 60-61). Given the limitations, the VE
identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles. (TR. 61). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the VE and
concluded that Ms. Howry was not disabled at step five based
on her ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 31-32).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews the Commissioner’s final “decision
to determin[e] whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). Under the
“substantial evidence” standard, a court looks to
an existing administrative record and asks whether it
contains “sufficien[t] evidence” to support the
agency’s factual determinations. Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
“Substantial evidence … is more than a mere
scintilla … and means only-such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct.
at 1154 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable
rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in
disability cases, the court will “neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the
agency.” Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201
(10th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Howry alleges: (1) the ALJ erred in his treatment of evidence
which pre-dated the period of disability; (2) the ALJ failed
to discuss Ms. Howry’s inability to afford treatment
when evaluating the RFC; (3) the ALJ failed to consider
Plaintiff’s mental impairments at step four; and (4) a
lack of substantial evidence to support the RFC. (ECF No.
CONSIDERATION OF EVIDENCE WHICH PRE-DATED THE PERIOD OF
stated, the relevant period of disability is October 4, 2014
through December 31, 2014. See supra. According to
Ms. Howry, the ALJ erred in his treatment of evidence which
pre-dated this period. (ECF No. 18:8-15). Specifically,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating: (1) a
medical opinion from treating physician, Dr. Jeffrey Floyd,
which was rendered in January 2013 and (2) all
“treatment notes” prior to the amended onset date
of October 4, 2014. (ECF No. 18:8-15). The Court agrees with
January 3, 2013, Dr. Floyd authored a “Residual
Functional Capacity Questionnaire” which outlined
Plaintiff’s specific abilities and limitations in
several work-related areas. (TR. 308-314). According to Dr.
Floyd, Plaintiff suffered from cervical stenosis, cervical
radiculopathy, and ...