United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
J. Cleary, United States Magistrate Judge
Anthony Leon Pugh, seeks judicial review of the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. For
the reasons discussed below, the decision of the Commissioner
is REVERSED AND REMANDED.
I. Social Security Law and Standard of
under the Social Security Act is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A
claimant is disabled under the Act 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.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A). Social Security regulations implement a
five-step sequential process to evaluate a disability claim.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see, e.g., Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
“If a determination can be made at any of the steps
that a claimant is or is not disabled, evaluation under a
subsequent step is not necessary.” Lax v.
Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation
and quotation omitted).
One requires the claimant to establish that she is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, as defined by 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. Step Two requires that
the claimant establish that she has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments that significantly
limit her ability to do basic work activities. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). At Step
Three, the claimant's impairments are compared with
certain impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App.1 (“Listings”). A claimant suffering from a
listed impairment or impairments “medically
equivalent” to a listed impairment is determined to be
disabled without further inquiry. If not, the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) proceeds to determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC). 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945. At Step Four, the claimant
must establish that he does not retain the RFC to perform his
past relevant work, if any. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant's
Step Four burden is met, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to establish at Step Five that work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy which the
claimant, taking into account his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, can perform. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1566, 416.966. Disability benefits are
denied if the Commissioner meets this burden at Step Five.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in
scope to two inquiries: first, whether the decision was
supported by substantial evidence; and, second, whether the
correct legal standards were applied. Hamlin v.
Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004).
“Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052
(quotation and citation omitted). Although the court will not
reweigh the evidence, the court will “meticulously
examine the record as a whole, including anything that may
undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
then a 51-year old male, applied for Title II benefits on
April 6, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of April 4,
2007. (R. 160-62). Plaintiff claimed that he was disabled due
to multiple back issues, including degenerative disc disease,
bulging disc, and two surgeries. (R. 169). Plaintiff's
claim for benefits was denied initially on January 24, 2012,
and on reconsideration on April 9, 2012. (R. 79-82).
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”), and the ALJ held the hearing
on February 6, 2013. (R. 39-78). The ALJ issued a decision on
March 21, 2013, denying benefits. (R. 23-38). The Appeals
Council denied review, and plaintiff appealed to the District
Court. (R. 1-4, 549-65). United States Magistrate Judge T.
Lane Wilson issued a Report and Recommendation, which was
adopted by the District Court, to reverse the ALJ's
decision and remand the case for further proceedings. (R.
549-65). The Report and Recommendation found that the ALJ
erred in evaluating the medical opinion evidence from Dr.
Gerald Rana, plaintiff's treating physician. (R. 560-64).
remand, the ALJ held a hearing on January 13, 2016. (R.
498-547). The ALJ issued a new decision on April 7, 2016,
again denying plaintiff benefits. (R. 481-97). The ALJ found
that plaintiff was insured through December 31, 2012, and
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged disability onset date of April 4,
2007. (R. 486). The ALJ noted that plaintiff offered, at the
second hearing, to amend his onset date to July 6, 2009, but
the ALJ declined to do so. Id. The ALJ found that
plaintiff had the severe impairment of “lumbar spine
Degenerative Disc Disease.” Id. The ALJ found
that plaintiff's impairments of “degenerative disc
disease of the cervical spine” and hypertension were
non-severe impairments and that plaintiff's alleged
impairments of right shoulder pain and migraines were not
medically determinable impairments. (R. 486-87). The ALJ
found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
medically equal a listing. (R. 487).
reviewing plaintiff's testimony and the medical evidence,
the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform
a limited range of sedentary work:
He could perform no lifting or carrying more than 10 pounds
occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently with
pushing/pulling limitations consistent with lifting and
carrying limitations. He could stand/walk for two hours out
of an eight-hour workday; walk for 20-30 minutes at a time;
stand for 20-30 minutes at a time; sit for 6-8 hours out of
an eig h t -hour workday for 30-60 minutes at a time. He must
be able to change positions but does not need to leave the
work station. He can occasionally climb stairs, balance, bend
or stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. He cannot climb ladders,
ropes and scaffolding.
Id. Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant
work, but he did retain some transferable skills from those
jobs, including “inspection, quality control, wood
working and record keeping.” (R. 491). The ALJ found
that plaintiff could perform other work, such as a
“matrix inspector” (sedentary, semi-skilled work)
and “asbestos-shingle inspector” (sedentary
semi-skilled work). (R. 492).
appeal, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC findings are
not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. 15).
Plaintiff's argument centers on the ALJ's evaluation
of the medical opinion evidence and, as he did in his first
appeal, plaintiff challenges the ALJ's treatment of Dr.
Rana's opinion. Id. Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ did not give specific, legitimate reasons for giving
little weight to Dr. Rana's opinion. Id.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ selectively disregarded
evidence of plaintiff's pain from Dr. Rana's opinion
and treatment notes that would support a finding of
disability and that the ALJ ignored evidence from 2014 and
2015, more than two years after plaintiff's date last
insured, which supported Dr. Rana's findings.
Id. Plaintiff ...