United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
FLORENCE C. HOWARD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
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
applications for 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
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income initially and on
reconsideration. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 14-20). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(TR. 1-4). Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final
decision of the Commissioner.
evaluating Plaintiff's claims of disability, the ALJ
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 & 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since September 25, 2012, the alleged onset date. (TR. 16).
At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Howard had the
following severe impairments: lumbar back pain and spinal
stenosis. (TR. 16). 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. 17).
four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to “perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with occasional
stooping, kneeling, and crouching.” (TR. 17). With this
RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform her past
relevant work as a sales associate. (TR. 18). Even so, 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. 35-36). Given the limitations, the VE
identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT). (TR. 36-37). The ALJ adopted the testimony of
the VE and concluded that Ms. Howard was not disabled based
on her ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 19-20).
appeal, Plaintiff alleges error: (1) in the evaluation of a
mental impairment, (2) in the evaluation of a treating
physician's opinion, and (3) in the credibility analysis.
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).
ALJ'S EVALUATION OF DR. MALDONADO'S OPINION
August 16, 2013 to December 23, 2014, Dr. Juan Maldonado
treated Plaintiff for back pain. (TR. 372-383, 390-404). As
alleged by Ms. Howard, the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Dr.
ALJ's 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: (1) assess the opinion under a series
of factors and give “good reasons” for
the weight assigned to the opinion. Id. at 1332.
“The 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.” Id. 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
April 7, 2014, Dr. Maldonado completed a “Medical
Opinion Regarding Residual Functional Capacity” where
the physician documented Ms. Howard's physical
impairment, including her various work-related abilities and
limitations. (TR. 383). There, the physician stated that
since 2012 Ms. Howard had been suffering low back pain caused
by a herniated disc impinging on her left side. (TR. 383).
With the impairment, Dr. Maldonado opined that Plaintiff had
the ability to:
• stand and walk less than 2 hours during an 8-hour day,
• sit for 2 hours during an 8-hour day, and
• occasionally and/or frequently lift and/or carry less
than 10 pounds.
383). Dr. Maldonado also stated that Ms. Howard's
impairment: (1) was likely to interfere with her ability to
maintain attention and concentrate for 25% or more of her
workday and (2) would likely cause ...