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Eckwood v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          FRANK H. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, CARLETTA ELAINE ECKWOOD, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying 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 decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the decision contains a sufficient basis to determine that the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 19');">1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 19');">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 (19');">1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 19');">197');">305 U.S. 19');">197, 229 (19');">1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 993 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 19');">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. 19');">1992).


         Plaintiff was 42 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 45 on the date of the denial decision. Plaintiff has an 11 th grade education and her past work experience includes fast-food worker, laundry worker, and hair stylist. Plaintiff claims to have become disabled as of January 10, 2012[2] due to knee problems, back injury, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and bipolar disorder. [R. 58, 169]. Q1

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments relating to lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; osteoarthritis of the knees; major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and learning disorder. [R. 14]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work in that she can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk for 4 hours out of an 8-hour workday; sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Plaintiff is limited to simple tasks and can have superficial and incidental work-related interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the public. [R. 16]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, but found based on the testimony of the vocational expert, there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [R. 25, 26]. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. 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. 19');">1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the expert medical opinions of a treating orthopedic specialist and a treating mental health counselor. [Dkt. 19');">19, p. 4].


         Treating Physician's

         Opinion Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of treating orthopedic specialist, Dr. Jean Bernard, M.D. A treating physician's opinion is accorded controlling weight if it is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. However, if the opinion is deficient in either of these respects, it is not given controlling weight. When an ALJ decides to disregard a medical report by a claimant's physician, he must set forth specific, legitimate reasons for his decision. An ALJ "may reject a treating physician's opinion outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence and not due to his or her own credibility judgments, speculation or lay opinion." Watkins v. Bamhart, 350 F.3d, 1297, 2003 WL 22855009 (10th Cir. 2003). If the ALJ decides that a treating source's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, he must determine the weight it should be given after considering: (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 treating source's opinion is supported by objective evidence; (4) whether the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole; (5) whether or not the treating source is a specialist in the area upon which an opinion is given; and (6) other factors brought to the ALJ's attention which tend to support or contradict the opinion. See § 404.1527(d)(2)-(6). Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Jean Bernard, M.D. from January 24, 2011 to April 15, 2015. [R. 848-885, 1262-1267, 1417-1427, 1431-1433, 19');">1969-2002, 2155-2209, 2424-2434]. Dr. Bernard completed a Medical Source Statement - Physical (MSS-P) on July 9, 2014. The MSS-P form limits Plaintiff to lift/carry less than 10 pounds occasionally; stand/walk less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; must periodically alternate sitting and standing; limited pushing/pulling with upper and lower extremities; occasionally balance/stoop; no climbing, crouching, or crawling; less than occasional reaching, handling, fingering, or feeling; and avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, wetness, humidity, noise, vibrations, fumes, and hazards. Dr. Bernard also states that Plaintiff suffered from chronic back pain for many years; surgery was not an option; and she had undergone monthly epidural steroid injections. [R. 1431-1433]. The ALJ gave little weight to the opinion of Dr. Bernard noting that the limitations seem to be greatly exaggerated. [R. 22-23]. The ALJ determined Dr. Bernard's postural and manipulative limitations were unsupported by his own treatment records because his treatment of Plaintiff did not include upper back, neck, shoulder, or arm impairments that would result in postural or manipulative limitations for the upper extremities. [R. 21, 23].

         The ALJ discussed Dr. Bernard's treatment records including Toradol injections for Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain. The ALJ also noted that physical examinations consistently revealed normal sensory and motor exam inations with muscle strength grossly 5/5 on all extremities, negative Spurling test, and no tremor or cogwheel sign. [R. 1040, 1078-79, 1086, 1094, 1126, 1136, 1158, 1180, 1185, 1241]. Five lumbar MRI's were performed from 2011 through 2014 which reveal mostly mild degenerative changes of the lumbar spine with no spinal canal stenosis or foraminal stenosis at any level. [R. 879, 885, 1123, 2001, 2415]. Moreover, orthopedic surgeon, Richard Drake, D.O., who ...

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