United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
E. DOWDEILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is the Report & Recommendation
(“R&R”) (Doc. 19) of United States Magistrate
Judge Paul J. Cleary on review of a decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying the Plaintiff, Patricia
Scuggins, disability benefits. Judge McCarthy recommends that
the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled. Ms. Scuggins filed a timely Objection
(Doc. 20) to the R&R. Reviewing the Objection de novo,
the Court has considered the Administrative Record
(“Record”) (Doc. 13), the parties' briefs,
the R&R, Plaintiff's Objection, and the
Commissioner's Response (Doc. 21), and concludes that the
Commissioner's determination should be affirmed and the
R&R should be accepted.
Cleary accurately summarized the background of
plaintiff's disability claim and the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Doc. 19 at 3-5), and the
Court adopts that summary. Plaintiff objects to the R&R
on two grounds, which will be addressed below.
Standard of Review
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), “[t]he district
judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.
The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the
recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return
the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.”
The Court's task of reviewing the Commissioner's
decision involves determining “whether the factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record
and whether the correct legal standards were applied.”
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.” Id. “It is ‘more than
a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'”
Newbold v. Colvin, 718 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir.
2013) (quoting Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084
(10th Cir. 2007)). The Court will “neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the
agency.” Martinez v. Barnhart, 444 F.3d 1201,
1204 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting Casias v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir.
Medical Opinion Evidence
first contends that the ALJ erred in giving greater weight to
the opinions of non-examining agency consultants than to the
opinions of Ms. Scuggins' treating physicians. Plaintiff
points out that, due to when the non-examining agency reports
were completed, those consultants were unable to consider her
most recent medical reports (R. 691-757, 770-806).
the opinion of a treating physician is given more weight than
that of an examining consultant, and the opinion of a
non-examining consultant is given the least weight.”
Tietjen v. Colvin, 527 F. App'x 705, 708 (10th
Cir. 2013) (unpublished); see also Robinson v.
Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007)), 20
C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1)-(2). In some circumstances,
however, the opinion of a non-examining source “may be
entitled to greater weight than the opinions of treating or
examining sources.” SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, at *3
(superseded by SSR 17-2p, 2017 WL 3928306 (effective March
27, 2017)). In that case, the ALJ must provide a
“legally sufficient explanation” for rejecting
the opinion of a treating physician in favor of the opinion
of a non-examining source. Robinson, 366 F.3d at
regard to Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ
thoroughly explained her reasoning for giving the medical
opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr.
Jeannette Ramos-Fast and Dr. Charles D. Van Tuyl, diminished
weight. (R. 101, 103-04). Specifically, she found that Dr.
Ramos-Fast's opinion was inconsistent with the record of
her treatment of Plaintiff and that Dr. Van Tuyl's
opinions were not supported by the totality of the medical
evidence. (R. 101, 103).
also determined that the non-examining medical opinion at the
reconsideration level was consistent with Plaintiff's
Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score, her level of
daily activities, and her interaction with family, as
reported by Dr. Peter Ciali, the consultative examiner. (R.
105). Moreover, the Court finds nothing in the
Plaintiff's most recent medical records that show a
material change in her condition that would render the
non-examining source opinion stale. See Tarpley v.
Colvin, 601 F. App'x 641, 644 (10th Cir. 2015)
(unpublished). On June 12, 2014, Plaintiff reported that she
was “doing fine” on her current medications and
that her moods were stable and she was happy. (R. 738). On
July 10, 2014, Plaintiff reported that “her depression
[was] under good control, no problems, and no manic
episodes.” (R. 740). She reported feeling depressed on
July 18, 2014 (R. 744), but then stated that her moods were
stable and that she felt happy on September 2, 2014. (R.
776). On December 4, 2014, she stated that her moods were
“basically stable” and that she had no manic
episodes, despite experiencing some seasonal depression. (R.
778). On December 31, 2014, she reported symptoms of PTSD,
schizoaffective disorder, anxiety, panic, and insomnia. (R.
780). However, her physician noted on that date-as he had in
previous treatment notes-that her thought process was
logical; her thought content was normal; hallucinations,
delusions, and obsessions were absent, her recent and remote
memory was good; her attention span and concentration was
good, her fund of knowledge was good; she had reported no
problem concentrating; and her judgment and insight was good.
(R. 780-81). Also, far from ignoring these more recent
medical records, the ALJ discussed them rather thoroughly in
her decision. (R. 95, 103).
the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ'S RFC assessment that Plaintiff is “limited to
simple routine tasks, ” that “she is able to
perform superficial and incidental work-related interaction
with coworkers and supervisors, ” but that she
“should have no significant public interaction required
for completion of job tasks.” (R. 98). The Court finds
no reversible error in ALJ's decision to give greater
weight to the non-examining psychologist's opinion than
to the other medical opinions.
Plaintiff's physical impairments, the ALJ explained that
she was giving the treating physician's opinion
diminished weight because it was inconsistent with that
physician's own treatment notes and with the consultative
examiner's findings. (R. 101). She also determined that
the non-examining medical consultant's RFC assessment of
medium work was consistent with the findings of the
consultative examiner. (R. 105). Furthermore, the ALJ