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White v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 4, 2019

SHARON WHITE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1382. The Commissioner has answered the Complaint and filed the administrative record (hereinafter AR), and the parties have briefed the issues. The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B). For the following reasons, it is recommended the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Administrative History and Final Agency Decision

         Plaintiff filed her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on December 2, 2015. AR 227-28, 229-34. Plaintiff alleged she became disabled on August 1, 2015, due to chronic back pain (mainly lower back), stenosis, carpal tunnel in both wrists, tendinitis in her left wrist, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, endometriosis, and blood clots. AR 227, 229, 260. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications on February 18, 2016, see Id. at 149-52, 154-57, and on reconsideration on September 28, 2016. AR 163-65, 166-68.

         Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 6, 2017. AR 35-68. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. AR 58-66. The ALJ issued a decision in which she found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 12-29. Following the agency's well-established sequential evaluation procedure, the ALJ found at the first step that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2015. AR 17. At the second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, history of 2013 embolism and deep vein thrombosis requiring long-term anticoagulant medication therapy, obstructive sleep apnea, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spinal region, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome status-post June 2015 left release surgery, chronic knee pain of unknown etiology, recurrent major depressive disorder with anxious distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, non-severe GERD, endometriosis, and stress urinary incontinence. AR 17-18. Id. At the third step, the ALJ found these impairments were not per se disabling as Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment. AR 18.

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of sedentary work. AR 20.

[Plaintiff can perform sedentary work] except that involving more than frequently reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling bilaterally; occasionally climbing stairs and ramps and stooping; no kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; adapting to a work situation, performing simple tasks with routine supervision; relating to supervisors and co-workers on a superficial work basis; no customer service work; and no public contact.


         Relying on the VE's testimony as to the ability of a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's work history, age, education, and determined RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. AR 27. Continuing to rely on the VE, the ALJ further concluded Plaintiff could perform the jobs of polisher, surveillance systems monitor, and final assembler. AR 28-29. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from December 1, 2015 through the date of the decision. AR 29.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and therefore the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).

         II. Issues Raised

         On appeal, Plaintiff raises four issues. First, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to explain inconsistency between the RFC and the state agency physician opinions, to which she granted great weight. Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. No. 17) at 3-4. Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to indicate the weight she granted consultative examiner Dr. Raymond Azadgoli's opinion and claims this constitutes reversible error because it conflicted with the ALJ's RFC. Id. at 4-6. Third, Plaintiff challenges the accuracy of certain statements within the ALJ's decision. Id. at 6-7. Finally, Plaintiff argues the opinions of the state agency physicians were stale based on a 2017 MRI performed after said opinions were rendered. Id. at 7-10.

         III. General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review

         The Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Biestek v. Berryhill, __ U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1153 (2019); Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence “means-and means only-‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at 1154 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The “determination of whether the ALJ's ruling is supported by substantial evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Consequently, [the Court must] remain mindful that evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citations, quotations, and brackets omitted).

         The Social Security Act authorizes payment of benefits to an individual with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. A disability is an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see 20 C.F.R. ยง404.1509 (duration requirement). Both the ...

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