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Reece v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 20, 2017

KIMBERLY DAWN REECE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          FRANK H. McCARTHY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Kimberly Dawn Reece, 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. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 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, 14');">1420');">91 S.Ct. 14');">1420, 14');">1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (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. 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., 14');">1495');">961 F.2d 14');">1495 (10th Cir. 1992).

         Background

         Plaintiff was 44 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 46 on the date of the denial decision. Plaintiff has her associate's degree[2] in social work and her past work experience includes customer service representative, loan clerk, and janitor. Plaintiff claims to have become disabled as of January 17, 2014');">14 due to bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, depression, and anxiety. [R. 242].

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments relating to moderate osteoarthritis of the knees, morbid obesity, COPD, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and generalized anxiety disorder. [R. 25]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light to sedentary exertional work; walking and standing is limited to 2 hours of an 8-hour workday with regular work breaks. Plaintiff is able to sit for 6 hours of an 8-hour workday with regular work breaks. Plaintiff is able to climb ramps or stairs only occasionally; is able to bend, stoop, crouch, and crawl not more than occasionally; is unable to climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds; or work in environments where she would be exposed to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery parts. Plaintiff is able to perform tasks requiring overhead reaching more than occasionally; and unable to perform tasks requiring the use of foot pedals more than occasionally. Plaintiff is also limited to simple instructions and to occasional public contact. [R. 27-28]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a customer service representative, loan clerk, or janitor. [R. 31]. Further, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [R. 32-33]. 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. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to: 1) properly consider medical source opinions; and 2) properly consider Plaintiff's statements. [Dkt. 14');">14, p. 4].

         Analysis

         Medical Source Opinions

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Shirley L. Chesnut, D.O. Plaintiff contends Dr. Chesnut's opinion should outweigh the opinion from a nonexamining physician. [Dkt. 14');">14, p. 5]. 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. Barnhart, 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 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)-(6).

         Plaintiff began mental health treatment with Dr. Chesnut at Northeastern Tribal Health System in January 2012. [R. 382-383]. On October 27, 2014');">14, Dr. Chesnut completed a Medical Source Statement - Mental, [R. 404-406], opining Plaintiff was unable to perform 50% or greater in most areas of mental functioning based upon bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and auditory hallucinations. Dr. Chesnut opined that Plaintiff had the ability to interact appropriately with the public and accept instructions and criticism from ...


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