United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. 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 disability insurance 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).
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 for further administrative
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits initially and
on reconsideration. Following a hearing, an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 22-40).
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.
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. §
404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 5,
2012, the alleged disability onset date. (TR. 24). At step
two, the ALJ determined Mr. Crissinger had the following
severe impairments: fibromyalgia, disorders of the spine,
anxiety, and depression. (TR. 24). 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. 24).
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past
relevant work. (TR. 38). The ALJ further concluded that Mr.
Crissinger had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform less than a full range of light work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(b). The claimant occasionally can
lift/carry/push/pull 20 pounds and frequently
lift/carry/push/pull 10 pounds; stand/walk 4 hours total in
an 8 hour work day; sit 6 hours total in an 8 hour work day;
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; occasionally
reach overhead; and perform simple instructions (understand,
remember, and carry out simple instructions) with superficial
interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but no
interaction with the public.
on the finding that Mr. Crissinger could not perform his past
relevant work, the ALJ proceeded to step five. There, the ALJ
presented several limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to
determine whether there were other jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 78-80). Given the
limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary
of Occupational Titles. (TR. 80). The ALJ adopted the
testimony of the VE and concluded that Mr. Crissinger was not
disabled based on his ability to perform the identified jobs.
appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred: (1) in the
evaluation of medical evidence and (2) in 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).
THE ALJ'S EVALUATION OF THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE
first proposition, Mr. Crissinger argues that the ALJ erred
in his evaluation of the medical evidence, namely in his
consideration of: (1) an opinion from treating physician
Hamid Mahmood, and (2) of an opinion from medical expert Dr.
Eppstein, who testified at the hearing. The Court agrees.
The ALJ's Evaluation of Dr. Mahmood's
alleged by Plaintiff, the ALJ erred in his evaluation of
opinion evidence from Plaintiff's treating physician.
Duty to Assess a Treating Physician's Opinion
must follow a particular analysis in evaluating a treating
physician's opinion. First, the ALJ has to determine,
then explain, whether the opinion is entitled to controlling
weight. Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1119
(10th Cir. 2004). An opinion is entitled to controlling
weight if it is “well supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is
consistent with the other substantial evidence in the
record.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d 1326, 1331
(10th Cir. 2016) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). “But if the ALJ decides that the treating
physician's opinion is not entitled to controlling
weight, the ALJ must then consider whether the opinion should
be rejected altogether or assigned some lesser weight.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
doing so, the ALJ must assess the opinion under a series of
factors which 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 evidence; (4) consistency
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. Id. at 1331-1332 (internal quotation marks
omitted); Krausner v. Astrue, 638 F.3d
1324, 1330 (10th Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R § 404.1527.
an ALJ “must give good reasons for the weight assigned
to a treating physician's opinion, ” and
“[t]he reasons must be sufficiently specific to make
clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the [ALJ] gave
to the treating source's medical opinion and the reason
for that weight.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d
at 1332. If the ALJ rejects an 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).
from Dr. Mahmood
Mahmood treated Plaintiff as a primary care physician from
April 2007 to May 2014. (TR. 415-453, 508-509, 653-655,
684-688, 710, 781-787). On May 17, 2012, Dr. Mahmood
diagnosed Plaintiff with fibromyalgia after noting that
Plaintiff tested positive on 16 of 18 “trigger
points” on Plaintiff's body which are used to test
for the presence of the disease. (TR. 509). On March 8, 2013,
Dr. Mahmood completed a “Physical Capacities
Evaluation” where the physician documented Mr.
Crissinger's various work-related abilities and
limitations. (TR. 684-688). There, the physician diagnosed
Mr. Crissinger with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome,
osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis, PTSD, depression, and a
sleep disorder. (TR. 686, 688). According to Dr. Mahmood,
Plaintiff had the ability to:
• sit, stand, and walk for 1 hour during an 8-hour
• frequently lift and/or carry up to 5 pounds, and
• occasionally lift and/or carry between 6-10 pounds.
(TR. 684-685). Dr. Mahmood also stated that Mr. Crissinger