United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
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
application for supplemental security income 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.
and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration
denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following an
administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 19-30). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-4).
Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
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. § 416.920.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 29,
2013, the application date/amended onset date. (TR. 21, 40).
At step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Tucker had the following
severe impairments: Hepatitis C, overweight, depressive
disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder.
(TR. 21). 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. 21).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Tucker retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) meaning
that she can perform no lifting or carrying more than 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently with
pushing/pulling limitations consistent with lifting and
carrying limitations; can stand/walk for up to six hours in
an eight-hour workday; can sit for up to eight hours in an
eight-hour workday; can perform simple and routine tasks but
must be a habituated work setting and object oriented setting
with only superficial contact with supervisors and incidental
contact with co-workers. She can have no contact with the
(TR. 22-23). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR. 28). As a
result, the ALJ made additional findings at 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. 71-72).
Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 72-73). The ALJ
adopted the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Tucker
was not disabled based on her ability to perform the
identified jobs. (TR. 29-30).
appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in his consideration
of the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist,
Linda Cummings, M.D., as well as other medical evidence. Ms.
Tucker also contends that these errors affected the RFC and
the ALJ's step five findings.
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).
DR. CUMMINGS' OPINIONS
Tucker alleges that the ALJ erred in evaluating opinions from
her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Linda Cummings. (ECF No.
14:6-9). Plaintiff is correct.
ALJ's Duty to Assess a Treating Source's
SSA regulations govern the consideration of opinions by
“acceptable medical sources.” See 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.913(a). The Commissioner
generally gives the greatest weight to the medical opinions
of a “treating source, ” which includes a
physician who has “provided [the claimant] with medical
treatment or evaluation” during a current or past
“ongoing treatment relationship.” Id.
§§ 416.902, 416.927(c); Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1119 (10th Cir. 2004).
must follow a particular analysis in evaluating a treating
source'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 assess the opinion under a series of
factors which include: (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 physician's
opinion is supported by relevant evidence; (4) consistency
between the opinion and the record as a whole; (5) whether or
not the physician is a specialist in the area upon which an
opinion is rendered; and (6) other factors brought to the
ALJ's attention which tend to support or contradict the
opinion. Id. at 1331-1332 (internal quotation marks
omitted); Krausner v. Astrue, 638 F.3d
1324, 1330 (10th Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R § 416.927.
an ALJ “must give good reasons for the weight assigned
to a treating physician's opinion, ” and
“[t]he 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.” Allman, 813 F.3d at 1332. 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 omitted).
choosing to reject the treating physician's assessment,
an ALJ may not make speculative inferences from medical
reports and 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.” Robinson v.
Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1082 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Dr. Cummings' Opinions
record contains numerous treatment notes from Dr. Cummings
dated August 2006 through July 2012 and February 2013 through
June 2015. (TR. 293-325, 342-365, 402, 501-505, 560-564,
584-587, 628-641). All of those notes indicate that Dr.
Cummings had diagnosed Plaintiff with schizoaffective
disorder; bipolar disorder; anxiety with panic attacks;
social anxiety; and agoraphobia with panic attacks. (TR.
293-325, 342-365, 402, 501-505, 560-564, 584-587, 628-641).
Dr. Cummings treated Plaintiff's conditions by
prescribing Prozac, Seroquel, Chlorpromazine, and Alprazolam.
(TR. 293-325, 342-365, 402, 501-505, 560-564, 584-587,
October 22, 2015, Dr. Cummings completed a “Mental
Residual Functional Capacity Assessment” (MRFCA) and a
“Mental Status Form.” (MSF). (TR. 642-645). In
the MRFCA, Dr. Cummings stated that Plaintiff was
“markedly” limited in her ability to:
• Remember locations and work-like procedures,
• Perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular
attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances,
• Make simple, work-related decisions,
• Complete a normal work-day and workweek without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to
perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable ...