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Ralph v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 4, 2019

SHERRI L. RALPH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Sherri L. Ralph, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 10], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural Background

         On December 6, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB. AR 36-48. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-6. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Following this process, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 13, 2014, her alleged onset date. AR 38.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairment of fibromyalgia and several non-severe medically determinable impairments. Id. at 39-41. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id. at 41-42.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiffs residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that she could perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Id. at 42-46.

         At step four, relying on a vocational expert's (VE) testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work but had acquired the skills of marketing and communication, and knowledge of the real estate industry from her past relevant work as a real estate broker. Id. at 46-47. Proceeding to the fifth step, the VE testified that Plaintiffs acquired work skills were transferable to other occupations and that Plaintiff can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 47-48. The ALJ then relied upon the Medical-Vocational Rules (Grids) to find that Plaintiff was “not disabled” under Rules 201.15 and 201.07. Id. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id. at 48.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in: (1) adequately accounting for all of her medically determinable impairments in the RFC and (2) sustaining his burden of proof at step five of the sequential evaluation process. Pl.'s Br. [Doc. No. 17] at 2-10, 10-13. Plaintiff also alleges that the SSA Appeals Council erred in declining to consider certain medical records submitted post-hearing. Id. at 13-14. As explained below, the Court finds no grounds for reversal.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009); see also Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that the court only reviews an ALJ's decision “to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied” and in that review, “we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Under such review, “common sense, not technical perfection, is [the Court's] guide.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1167 (10th Cir. 2012).

         V. Analysis

         A. RFC determination

         1. ...


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