United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S
B. Cohn, United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge for decision. Plaintiff Jason Lamont Johnson
(“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
decision finding of not disabled. As set forth below, the
Court DENIES Plaintiff's appeal and
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision in
STANDARD OF REVIEW
receive disability or supplemental security benefits under
the Social Security Act (“Act”), a claimant bears
the burden to demonstrate an “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
further provides that an individual:
shall be determined to be under a disability only if his
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Plaintiff must demonstrate the physical or mental impairment
“by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§
Security regulations implement a five-step sequential process
to evaluate a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748,
750 (10th Cir. 1988) (setting forth the five steps in
detail). “If a determination can be made at any of the
steps that a plaintiff is or is not disabled, evaluation
under a subsequent step is not necessary.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. The claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four. See Wells v.
Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1064 at n.1. (10th Cir. 2013). If
the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner
must show at step five that jobs exist in the national
economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age,
education, and work experience can perform. Id.
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied
the correct legal standards and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. See e.g., 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“court shall review only the
question of conformity with such regulations and the validity
of such regulations”); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. See id.
Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or
considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). The Court's review is based on the record, and
the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a
whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from
the [Administrative Law Judge's] findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir.
2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different
conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the
Commissioner's decision stands. See White v.
Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
February 2013, Plaintiff protectively applied for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”). (Tr. 238-39, 253-58).
Plaintiff alleged disability as of October 27, 2011, due to a
back injury, high blood pressure, and depression. (Tr. 238,
291). Following a hearing in July 2014 (Tr. 35-71), an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), concluded
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act in a
decision dated December 16, 2014 (Tr. 19-28). The Appeals
Council declined review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6).
This appeal followed.
ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
appeal, Plaintiff alleges two errors: (1) the ALJ committed
reversible error by failing to properly evaluate the medical
opinion evidence of record; and (2) the ALJ committed
reversible legal error by failing to discuss uncontroverted
and / or significantly probative evidence that conflicted
with her findings. (Pl. Br. at 6, Doc. 17).
ALJ Evaluation of Medical Opinions
alleges the ALJ erred by failing to evaluate every medical
opinion in the record. (Pl. Br. at 6). In the decision, the
ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's medical record.
As addressed in the prior decision, the claimant has a
history of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
status post discectomy in 1991 and fusion in 2008; as well as
a history of depression, cocaine dependence and marijuana
abuse. The records of July 15, 2011, also reflect a diagnosis
of hypertension “in good control, ” and
“bursitis or rotator cuff tear on the left
shoulder.” The claimant testified that since October
27, 2011, (the alleged onset date in this instant
application) the claimant continues to suffer from pain; but
has ceased his use of cocaine and marijuana. The claimant
testified that he is unable to work due to pain …
On May 9, 2013, the claimant underwent a physical examination
with Dr. Jerry D. First at the request of [the] State agency.
By the date of his examination with Dr. First, the claimant
had still not had his left shoulder evaluated. The claimant
also complained of continued pain in his back (at the same
intensity) since 2007. However, the claimant was notably
“not currently taking any pain medications” with
“no plans to do anything further, for his back.”
Despite some observed limitation in his range of motion
(particularly at his back), the claimant was able to walk
down the 70-foot hallway without any difficulty or need of
assistance. His gait was ...