United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
M. PURCELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her
applications for disability insurance and supplemental
security income benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423,
1382. Defendant has answered the Complaint and filed the
administrative record (hereinafter AR), and the parties have
briefed the issues. The matter has been referred to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings
consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the
following reasons, it is recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
Administrative History and Agency Decision
applications, Plaintiff alleged she was disabled beginning on
May 24, 2013. (AR 199). She subsequently amended her alleged
onset date to January 1, 2014, because she returned to work
between September and November 2013. (AR 41, 43).
Plaintiff's medical records reflect she has been treated
for anxiety and depression. On March 26, 2013, Plaintiff was
hospitalized after she expressed suicidal thoughts. She was
discharged on April 4, 2013. (AR 383-390). Plaintiff has also
been treated for physical impairments including hypertension,
hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia,
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and obesity.
appeared at an administrative hearing conducted on March 31,
2015 before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(AR 35-58). At this hearing, Plaintiff testified concerning
her usual daily activities, symptoms, functional abilities,
medications, and medical treatment. A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. On July 16, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 10-28).
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process,
required by agency regulations, to determine whether
Plaintiff had been disabled at any time during the relevant
period. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729,
731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining process); see also
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. At step one, the
ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
employment since the amended alleged onset date. (AR 15). At
step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe impairments
including non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus,
hypothyroidism, hypercholesterol, obesity, generalized
anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress
disorder, and personality disorder. (AR 16). At step three,
the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. part
404, subpart P, appendix 1. (AR 16).
next step, the ALJ considered the medical and nonmedical
evidence in the record and determined Plaintiff had the
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform
work at the light exertional level except Plaintiff could
stand and walk for only “the total of two hours
each” in a regular eight hour workday. (AR 19).
Further, the ALJ found Plaintiff was able to perform simple
and some complex tasks with routine supervision, occasionally
interact with the general public, and would benefit from a
“reduced high stress work atmosphere.” (AR 19).
four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ relied on
the hearing testimony of the VE, who, in turn, relied on the
description of Plaintiff's past relevant work contained
in the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of
Occupational Titles. Taking into account Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found at
step four that Plaintiff was not capable of performing her
past relevant work as a special education teacher. (AR 26).
At step five, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony and
found Plaintiff had acquired work skills from past relevant
work that are transferrable to other occupations. (AR 27). As
a result, Plaintiff was capable of performing other jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy
including bill sorter, data clerk, and payroll clerk. (AR
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision. Therefore, the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009).
raises several issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff contends
the ALJ incorrectly applied Social Security regulations at
step five and as a result, erroneously concluded she
possessed transferrable skills that would allow her to
perform jobs available within the national economy. Second,
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by not adequately accounting
for her mental limitations within the RFC. Finally, Plaintiff
asserts the ALJ erred by not giving her treating
psychologist's opinion controlling weight.
General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review
Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision
is 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); Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760
(10th Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v.
Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007)
(citation and quotations omitted). The “determination
of whether the ALJ's ruling is supported by substantial
evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole.
Consequently, [the Court must] remain mindful that evidence
is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in
the record.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citation,
quotations, and brackets omitted).
Social Security Act authorizes payment of benefits to an
individual with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 401, et
seq. A disability is an “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that 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); see 20 C.F.R.
§416.909 (duration requirement). Both the
“impairment” and the “inability” must
be expected to last not less than twelve months. Barnhart
v. Walton, ...