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Brown v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 6, 2017

AARON CHARLES BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          FRANK H. McCARTHY, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Aaron Charles Brown, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Social Security disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).

         Background

         Plaintiff was 35 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 40 on the date of the ALJ's denial decision He has a high school education with some college education and formerly worked as a non commissioned officer in the Navy and switch gear technician. He claims to have been unable to work since March 3, 2010 as a result of back pain, status post L5-S1 fusion and degenerative disc disease, bilateral wrist pain, pain in both knees and status post two ACL reconstructions of the left knee, obesity, depression, and anxiety.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to lift/carry or push/pull 20 pounds occasionally or 10 pound frequently. In an 8-hour day the ALJ found Plaintiff can stand/walk for 6 hours and can sit for 6-8 hours. He can occasionally climb stairs, balance, bend/stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He cannot climb ladders ropes, or scaffolds. He can engage in frequent bilateral fingering, handling, and feeling. He requires an air-conditioned work environment. He can perform simple, repetitive tasks and some moderately complex tasks allowing semi-skilled work. He is limited to superficial contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public. [R. 13].

         Although Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform with these limitations. The case was thus decided at step five of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegation

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to properly evaluate the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Cornell.

         Analysis

         An ALJ is required to give controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion if the opinion is both: (1) well supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques; and (2) consistent with other substantial evidence in the record. Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1275 (10th Cir. 2004). "[I]f the opinion is deficient in either of these respects, then it is not entitled to controlling weight." Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003). Even if a treating physician's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, "[t]reating source medical opinions are still entitled to deference and must be weighed using all of the factors provided in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527." Id. (quotation omitted). If the ALJ rejects the opinion completely, specific legitimate reasons must be given for doing so. Miller v. Chater, 99 F.3d 972, 976 (10th Cir. 1996), Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 513 (10th Cir. 1987).

         The record contains a Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (physical) completed on June 26, 2014 by Plaintiff's treating physician, Earl G. Cornell, M.D. [R. 1413-1414]. The ALJ accurately summarized Dr. Cornell's opinion as defining Plaintiff as being very limited. [R. 15]. Dr. Cornell indicated Plaintiff could occasionally lift 10 pounds and frequently lift less than 10 pounds. He could stand/walk for 30 minutes at one time for a total of less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. He could sit for 1 to 2 hours at a time for a total of less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. Dr. Cornell also noted that Plaintiff required a one-point cane for ambulation. He stated that he could not perform a job on a continuing and sustained ...


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