United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Joseph Evan York, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security
Administration's final decision finding he was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. The parties have
consented to the exercise of jurisdiction over this matter by
a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). The Commissioner has filed the Administrative
Record (AR) [Doc. No. 14], and both parties have briefed
their respective positions. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
March 24, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits. See AR 16. The
Social Security Administration denied the application
initially and on reconsideration. AR 86, 99. Following a
hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an
unfavorable decision dated November 22, 2016. AR 13-30. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR
1-6. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision
of the Commissioner. Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d
1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff seeks judicial review
of this final agency decision.
The ALJ's Decision
followed the sequential evaluation process required by agency
regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d
729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005) (explaining five-step sequential
evaluation process); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. The ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since January 11, 2014, the
alleged onset date. AR 18.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of osteoarthritis, asthma, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative disc disease of the
back, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, coronary
artery disease, and obesity. AR 18-20. At step three,
the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 20-21.
next determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a
less than full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b). [Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, and pull 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk
for two out of eight hours; sit for six out of eight hours;
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb
stairs and ramps; and occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, and
stoop. [Plaintiff] must avoid even moderate exposure to
fumes, odors, dust, and gases. [Plaintiff] must avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat and extreme humidity.
AR 21-24. The ALJ determined Plaintiff is capable of
performing past relevant work as a sales manager. AR 24. In
the alternative, and relying on the testimony of a vocational
expert (VE), the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform-telemarketing representative, customer
complaint clerk, and order clerk. AR 24-25. The ALJ
concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled for
purposes of the Social Security Act. AR 25.
Issues Presented for Judicial Review
contends the ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of a treating
physician, improperly determined Plaintiff could perform his
past relevant work, and committed reversible error at step
five. The Court finds the ALJ did not commit error with
regard to her handling of the opinions of the treating
physician or Plaintiff's past relevant work. Because the
ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff was not disabled at step
four, the Court does not reach the last point of error.
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to
determining whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the
correct legal standards were applied. See Poppa v.
Astrue, 569 F.3d 1167, 1169 (10th Cir. 2009).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758,
760 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted). A decision is not
based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of
evidence supporting it. Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d
1268, 1270 (10th Cir. 2004). The court “meticulously
examine[s] the record as a whole, including anything that may
undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009)
(citations omitted). While the court considers whether the
ALJ followed the applicable rules of law in weighing
particular types of evidence in disability cases, the court
does not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Bowman v. Astrue, 511
F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations and citations
ALJ's Weighing of Dr. Nickels' Opinion
contends the ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of Dr. Terry
Nickels, D.O., a treating physician. Pl.'s Br. 13-17. Dr.
Nickels found that Plaintiff had severe limitations on his
ability to lift, sit, walk, and perform manipulative
activities. AR 23, 382-389. He also found Plaintiff had
environmental limitations and would miss more than four days
of work per month. Id.
gave Dr. Nickels' opinions little weight, stating:
[T]hey are inconsistent with the medical record which shows
that [Plaintiff's] lungs are clear to auscultation and
that [Plaintiff] has full strength in all muscle groups.
Moreover, although Dr. Nickels opined [Plaintiff] would have
problems with asthma attacks at least twice per month, there
does not appear to be any evidence of recent COPD
exacerbations or asthma attacks consistent with the opinion
that [Plaintiff] would miss more than four days of work per
month, other than subjective reports made by [Plaintiff].
Likewise, despite such extreme limitations to sitting and
standing/walking less than two hours each within an
eight-hour day, as well as “rarely” lifting less
than 10 pounds per day, [Plaintiff] had received limited
treatment to his knee and back other than medication, and
there is little objective evidence in the file ...