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Southard v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 27, 2019

KAYLEN SOUTHARD, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHONT. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         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 REVERSES AND REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 23-33). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         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 January 27, 2016, her alleged onset date. (TR. 25). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Southard had the following severe impairments: obesity; migraine headaches; asthma; depression; and anxiety. (TR. 25). 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. 26).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Southard could not perform her past relevant work, but retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform a reduced range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. In addition, she can have frequent exposure to extreme temperatures, and environmental respiratory irritants and humidity. She is limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks. Lastly, she can have no strict production requirements; and can have frequent contact with co-workers, supervisors and the public.

(TR. 28, 31).

         At step five, the ALJ presented the RFC limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 65-66). Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). (TR. 66). The ALJ adopted the VE's testimony and concluded that Ms. Southard was not disabled at step five. (TR. 32-33).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. ...


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