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Frost v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 7, 2020

CATHY FROST, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BERNARD M. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Cathy Frost, seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative Record (AR) [Doc. No. 11], and both parties have briefed their positions.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 19, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB. AR 40-46. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-8. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision. See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by agency regulations. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (explaining process); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Following this process, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of June 30, 2017, through her date last insured, which was also June 30, 2017. AR 42.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of COPD and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id. at 42-43.

         The ALJ next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), concluding that Plaintiff could perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) with the additional restrictions that Plaintiff occasionally can climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and must avoid fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. Id. at 43.

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a home health aide and hardware sales clerk. Id. at 44. The ALJ then proceeded to make alternative findings at step five and, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), found Plaintiff can perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 45. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff can perform the requirements of representative jobs such as woman's apparel salesperson, and general merchandise sales. Id. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Id. at 46.

         III. Claims Presented for Judicial Review

         Plaintiff brings two allegations of error: (1) the ALJ failed to consider certain medical evidence; and (2) the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's obesity. Pl.'s Br. [Doc. No. 15] at 3-8, 8-11. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for further proceedings.

         IV. 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. Poppa v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009); see also Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that the court only reviews an ALJ's decision “to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied” and in that review, “we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Under such review, “common sense, not technical perfection, is [the Court's] guide.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1167 (10th Cir. 2012).

         V. ...


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