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Rich v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 13, 2019

COY L. RICH, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff 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).

         The 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 AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 10-25). Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, [1] making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.


         The ALJ 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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 23, 2013, his alleged onset date. (TR. 12). At step two, the ALJ determined that Mr. Rich had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, status post arthroscopic rotator cuff repair and subsequent open repair. (TR. 12). 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. 13).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Rich was unable to perform any past relevant work, but retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he is limited to frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, and climbing ramps and stairs. He can occasionally crouch, and climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can never crawl. He can occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity and can frequently grip, handle, finger, and feel with the dominant right hand.

(TR. 23, 14). With this RFC, the ALJ proceeded to step five and presented these limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 60). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). (TR. 60). The ALJ adopted the VE's testimony and concluded that Mr. Rich was not disabled at step five. (TR. 24-25).


         This 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).

         While 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).


         On appeal, Mr. Rich alleges the ALJ erred: (1) in evaluating opinions from various medical sources and (2) at step five. (ECF No. 18:5-13).


         Plaintiff alleges error in the ALJ's consideration of medical opinions offered by: (1) Dr. M. Sean O'Brien; (2) Dr. James Odor; (3) Dr. David ...

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