United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
E. DOWDELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the Report & Recommendation
(“R&R”) (Doc. 18) of United States Magistrate
Judge Gerald B. Cohn on review of a decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying the Plaintiff, Margaret
Sue Hitchcock, disability benefits. Judge Cohn recommends
that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled. Mr. Vann filed a timely Objection
(Doc. 19) to the R&R, and he requests that the Court
“reverse and/or remand this matter for proper
consideration.” (Doc. 19 at 7). Reviewing the Objection
de novo, the Court has considered the Administrative Record
(“Record”) (Doc. 12), the parties' briefs,
the R&R, Plaintiff's Objection, and the
Commissioner's Response (Doc. 20), and concludes that the
Commissioner's determination should be affirmed and the
R&R should be accepted.
6, 2013, Plaintiff filed claims for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning December 1, 2012. (R. 22). These claims
were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
(Id.). A hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) was held on September 15, 2014, and the
ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled on
November 13, 2014. (R. 22, 32).
decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had two severe
impairments: history of a right wrist fracture and history of
a seizure disorder. (R. 24). He determined that
Plaintiff's medically determinable mental impairments of
anxiety and a history of substance abuse, considered singly
and in combination, were non-severe. (R. 25). In analyzing
Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ applied the
“special technique” required by the regulations
and rated Plaintiff's limitations in “four broad
functional areas.” See Mushero v. Astrue, 384
F. App'x 693, 694 (10th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (citing
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(b)(2), 416.920a(b)(2)). The
ALJ found that Plaintiff had mild limitations in two
functional areas: daily living and concentration,
persistence, or pace. (R. 25-26). He found that she had no
limitation in social functioning and that she had experienced
no episodes of decompensation of extended duration.
(Id.). Although Plaintiff testified to memory loss,
the ALJ found no objective evidence in the medical records to
support this impairment. (R. 26).
Plaintiff did not allege that any particular impairment or
combination of impairments met or medically equaled the
severity of a listed impairment, the ALJ proceeded to the
next step of the evaluative process. (R. 26). The ALJ then
found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work. He found that she
could lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently,
stand/walk about 6 hours in an 8-hour work day, and sit about
6 hours in an 8-hour work day, but that she should avoid
hazards such as heights and open machinery. (R. 26-27). As a
result of this RFC determination, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was capable of performing her past work as a day
care worker or waitress. (R. 30). Alternatively, the ALJ
found that she could perform other jobs in the national
economy, such as dishwasher or dietary aide. (R. 31).
objects to the R&R on several grounds, which will be
Standard of Review
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.
Mild Difficulties in Concentration, Persistence, or
first contends that the ALJ erred by allegedly failing to
address Plaintiff's mild limitations in daily living and
concentration, persistence, or pace in his RFC analysis and
hypothetical to the vocational expert (“VE”).
(Doc. 19 at 1).
conclusion that the claimant's mental impairments are
non-severe at step two does not permit the ALJ simply to
disregard those impairments when assessing a claimant's
RFC and making conclusions at steps four and five.”
Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1068-69 (10th Cir.
2013). Yet, this Court finds that the ALJ in this case did
not disregard Plaintiff's mental impairments after
finding them non-severe at step two. Instead, at step four,
the ALJ specifically discussed the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of the symptoms caused by
Plaintiff's mental impairments. (R. 29). He noted
Plaintiff's testimony that she lives alone with her dog
and is able to care for their needs. (Id.;
see R. 42). He noted that she takes care of her
friend's children, ages 3 and 11, when he is at work. (R.
29; see R. 53). He also noted Plaintiff's
mother's assertions that Plaintiff has no mental
problems, that she can pay attention a regular amount of
time, and that she crochets, spends time with others, shops,
counts change, has no trouble with personal care, and does
not need reminders for medication. (R. 29; see R.
222-29). The ALJ also gave great weight to the state agency
medical consultants' opinions regarding the non-severity
of Plaintiff's mental impairments. (R. 29-30;
see R. 99-100, 111-12).
Court finds this discussion “satisfied the ALJ's
obligation at step four to provide a more detailed assessment
of [Plaintiff's] ability to complete various job
functions as part of determining her RFC.”
Wells, 727 F.3d at 1069. Moreover, “[t]he
ALJ's finding of a moderate [or mild] limitation in
concentration, persistence, or pace at step three does not
necessarily translate to a work-related functional limitation
for the purposes of the RFC ...