United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ERWIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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 supplemental security income 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.
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 the
Commissioner's decision and REMANDS the case for further
application for supplemental security income was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Following two hearings, an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable
decision. (TR. 11-20). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the
decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
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. §
416.9520. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 30,
2012, the application date. (TR. 13). At step two, the ALJ
determined Ms. Brown had the following severe impairments:
cervical stenosis and degenerative disc disease of the neck,
chronic low back pain, chronic shoulder pain, and
polysubstance abuse in remission. (TR. 13). 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. 14).
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
further concluded that Ms. Brown had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform less than a full range of light work as defined in
20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). The claimant can lift 20 pounds on an
occasional basis and 10 pounds on a frequent basis. The
claimant can stand/walk six hours out of an eight-hour
workday; and sit six hours out of an eight-hour workday. The
claimant cannot engage in crawling. The claimant can engage
in occasional overhead reaching and occasional fingering with
the non-dominant right hand.
on the finding that Ms. Brown had no past relevant work, the
ALJ proceeded to step five. There, he presented several
limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to determine whether
there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (TR. 46-47). Given the limitations, the VE
identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT). (TR. 47). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the
VE and concluded that Ms. Brown was not disabled based on her
ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 20).
appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in: (1) evaluating
the opinion from a treating physician and (2) the credibility
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).
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).
ERROR IN THE EVALUATION OF A TREATING PHYSICIAN'S
alleged by Ms. Brown, the ALJ committed legal error in
considering the opinion from treating physician, Dr. Mark
ALJ's Duty in Evaluating a Treating Physician's
ALJ's evaluation of a treating physician's opinion is
sequential. First, the ALJ must determine whether a treating
physician's opinion is entitled to “controlling
weight.” Krausner v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324,
1330 (10th Cir. 2011). In doing so, the ALJ must consider
whether the opinion is “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” SSR 96-2p, at *2 (July 2, 1996)
(quotations omitted). If the answer to this question is
“no, ” then the inquiry at this stage is
complete. If the ALJ finds that the opinion is
well-supported, he must then confirm that the opinion is
consistent with other substantial evidence in the record.
Id. If the opinion is deficient in either of these
respects, then it is not entitled to controlling weight.
ALJ declines to give the treating physician's opinion
“controlling weight, ” the ALJ must examine
particular factors and explain the amount of weight assigned.
See SSR 96-2p, at *5. These factors include: (1) the
length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of
examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship, including the treatment provided and the kind
of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree to which
the physician's opinion is supported by relevant
between the opinion and the record as a whole; (5) whether or
not the physician is a specialist in the area upon which an
opinion is rendered; and (6) other factors brought to the
ALJ's attention which tend to support or contradict the
opinion. Krausner v. Astrue, 638 F.3d at 1330, 20
C.F.R § 416.927. Although the ALJ need not explicitly
discuss each factor, the reasons stated must be
“sufficiently specific” to permit meaningful
appellate review. See Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d
1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2007); SSR 96-2p, at *5.
ALJ rejects the opinion completely, he must give
“specific, legitimate reasons” for doing so.
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir.
2003) (internal citations omitted).
Dr. Winchester's Opinion
Winchester treated Plaintiff from September 2013 to March of
2014. (TR. 348-352, 357-359). On September 8, 2013, Dr.
Winchester completed a Medical Source Opinion of Residual
Functional Capacity form for Ms. Brown. There, Dr. Winchester
opined that Ms. Brown could:
• stand and/or walk for less than two hours;
• frequently lift and/or carry less than 10 pounds;
• reach, push, and pull with both upper extremities for
less than two hours; and
• grasp, handle, finger, or feel with both hands for
less than two hours.
(TR. 348, Exhibit 11F). Dr. Winchester based these opinions
on: (1) diagnoses that Ms. Brown suffered from degenerative
disc disease and spinal stenosis and (2) additional findings
that Plaintiff had leg weakness and abnormal reflexes. (TR.
acknowledged Dr. Winchester's opinion, but then
effectively rejected it, stating:
The findings of Dr. Winchester regarding the claimant's
physical limitations are far in excess of what is supported
by the record. The Administrative Law Judge therefore assigns
little weight to the conclusions of Dr. Winchester in Exhibit
Error in the Consideration of Dr. ...