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Shoun v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 11, 2019

LAURIE L. SHOUN, 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 under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. Defendant 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 Defendant's decision be affirmed.

         I. Administrative History and Final Agency Decision

         Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on January 27, 2017. AR 165-66. Plaintiff alleged she became disabled on December 30, 2016, due to multiple sclerosis. AR 165, 205. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application on March 2, 2017, see Id. at 70, 71-78, and on reconsideration on April 19, 2017. AR 79, 80-88.

         Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 9, 2017. AR 39-69. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. AR 64-66. The ALJ issued a decision in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 21-34. 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 30, 2016. AR 26. At the second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairment of relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis. Id. At the third step, the ALJ found this impairment was 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. Id.

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of sedentary work. AR 27. Specifically, Plaintiff can lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff can stand and/or walk up to two hours total and sit approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday. Id.

         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 perform her past relevant work as a claims processor. AR 34. Based on this finding, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from December 30, 2016 through the date of the decision. Id.

         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 several issues throughout her Opening Brief. First, she contends the ALJ failed to properly consider various medical opinions of record. Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. No. 13) at 3-10. Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's depression as a mental impairment. Id. at 10-13. Third, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred in considering her subjective symptoms. Id. at 13-15.

         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. §404.1509 (duration requirement). Both the “impairment” and the “inability” must be expected to last not less than twelve months. Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002).

         The agency follows a five-step sequential evaluation procedure in resolving the claims of disability applicants. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), (b)-(g). “If the claimant is not considered disabled at step three, but has satisfied her burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability under steps one, two, and four, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant has the [RFC] to perform other work in the national economy in view of her age, education, and work experience.” Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005). “The claimant is entitled to disability benefits only if he (or she) is not able to perform other work.” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987).

         IV. Opinion Evidence

         A. Dr ...

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