United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
TERESA E. BOYLE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is the Report and Recommendation (Dkt. # 20)
of Magistrate Judge Frank H. McCarthy recommending that the
Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration to deny plaintiff Teresa E.
Boyle's claim for disability benefits. Plaintiff has
filed an objection to the report and recommendation (Dkt. #
21), and she argues that the case should be reversed and
remanded to allow the administrative law judge (ALJ) to
resolve conflicting or ambiguous findings by two
March 7, 2014, plaintiff applied for disability benefits,
claiming that she was unable to work due to a back injury,
anxiety, and depression. Dkt. # 14-5, at 2. Plaintiff's
claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Dkt. #
14-4, at 7-8; id. at 17-18. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an ALJ, and a hearing was set for July 8,
2015. Id. at 36. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing
and she was represented by counsel.
issued a written decision denying plaintiff's claim for
disability benefits. Id. at 159-174. Plaintiff had
not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since
November 29, 2012, and she had the severe impairments of
stage III kidney disease, lumbago, obesity, hearing deficit,
major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder,
and general anxiety disorder. Id. at 162. However,
none of these impairments or combination of impairments met
or equaled the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P. Id. at 163. The ALJ found that
plaintiff had moderate difficulties with activities of daily
living, social functioning, and with regard to concentration,
persistence, or pace, but plaintiff did not have at least two
“marked” limitations as required for the
“paragraph B” or “paragraph C”
criteria. Id. at 164. The ALJ determined that
plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform light work with certain restrictions. Id. at
to plaintiff's objection, the ALJ found that the
following limitations were appropriate as to plaintiff's
Due to severe mental impairments, the claimant is limited to
unskilled work consisting of simple and routine tasks with
routine supervision that require only that she be able to
understand, remember and carry out simple instructions, and
with only occasional contact with coworkers and no contact
with the general public. Routine is defined here as jobs
where changes in daily work activities would occur
infrequently, and where workers would be given time to adjust
commensurate with the requirements of simple unskilled work.
Id. at 165. The administrative record contains
evidence that plaintiff underwent psychological consultative
evaluations on May 25, 2011 and May 1, 2014. Plaintiff was
examined by Johna Smasal, Ph. D., on May 25, 2011, who
reported that plaintiff had “would likely have
difficulty concentrating, learning new skills, socially
interacting, and recalling information.” Dkt. # 14-7,
at 57. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Smasal's
opinion, because the term “difficult” is
ambiguous in terms of vocational restrictions and Dr.
Smasal's opinion is inconsistent with the evidence as a
whole. Dkt. # 14-2, at 167. Nancy Barton, Ph. D., examined
plaintiff on May 1, 2014, and stated that:
Based on my limited time with Ms. Tiffey it is likely she
is able to perform some work-related mental activities, such
as ability to understand and socially interact. However, she
may experience difficulty with remembering, concentration,
persisting with difficult tasks, socially interacting and
adapting to the demands of a work environment.
Dkt. # 14-7, at 252. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr.
Barton's opinion because it is inconsistent with other
aspects of Dr. Barton's mental health evaluation and is
vague as to work-related restrictions. Dkt. # 14-2, at 168.
The ALJ construed the term “difficult” as used by
Dr. Smasal and Dr. Barton to correlate with
“moderate” limitations, and he found that
plaintiff could perform routine work on a sustained basis.
Id. at 169.
determined that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant
work, but he found that plaintiff was not disabled because
there were jobs in sufficient numbers in the national economy
that plaintiff could perform with her RFC. Id. at
173. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 2.
Plaintiff filed this case seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for
disability benefits. The matter was referred to a magistrate
judge for a report and recommendation. Plaintiff filed an
opening brief arguing that the ALJ failed to fully develop
the record as to plaintiff's mental health impairments
and that the ALJ failed to consider the effect of anxiety on
plaintiff's ability to perform sustained
work. Dkt. # 16. The magistrate judge considered
both of plaintiff's arguments and stated that the
ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and
he recommends that the Commissioner's decision to deny
plaintiff's claim for disability benefits be affirmed.
Dkt. # 20.
consent of the parties, the Court may refer any pretrial
matter dispositive of a claim to a magistrate judge for a
report and recommendation. However, the parties may object to
the magistrate judge's recommendation within 14 days of
service of the recommendation. Schrader v. Fred A. Ray,
M.D., P.C., 296 F.3d 968, 975 (10th Cir. 2002); Vega
v. Suthers, 195 F.3d 573, 579 (10th Cir. 1999). The
Court “shall make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 ...