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Brou v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 10, 2019

DAVID BROU, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, David Brou, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. This matter has been referred by United States District Judge Robin J. Cauthron for proposed findings and recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), 636(b)(3). The Commissioner filed the Administrative Record (AR), [Doc. No. 11], and both parties briefed their respective positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         On September 2, 2016, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI. See AR 12. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the application initially and on reconsideration. AR 128, 139. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision dated February 2, 2018. AR 12-26. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of this final agency decision.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 2, 2016, the application date. AR 14.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairment of an affective disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairment does not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 15-16.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: [Plaintiff] is limited to performing simple, routine tasks; [Plaintiff] can have occasional contact with supervisors; occasional contact with coworkers and never have contact with the public.

AR 16-20. The ALJ then found Plaintiff could perform past relevant work as a stocker and mail clerk. AR 20. The ALJ made alternative findings at Step Five. Id. First, the ALJ found that the Medical-Vocational Rules supported finding that Plaintiff was not disabled whether or not Plaintiff had transferable job skills. Id. Alternatively, and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform-packager-hand, laborer-salvager, and industrial sweeper. AR 20-21. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 21-22.

         III. 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). Substantial evidence “means-and means only-such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019). 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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). While the court considers whether the ALJ followed the 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) (quotations and citations omitted).

         IV. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ did not properly consider all of his mental impairments and limitations. Plaintiff also argues the ALJ failed to conduct a ...

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