United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
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
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
and of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 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 the Commissioner's
decision be affirmed.
Administrative History and Final Agency Decision
applied for disability benefits on October 20, 2014. AR
175-76. In her application, Plaintiff alleged she became
disabled on September 12, 2013, due to irritable bowel
syndrome (IBS), atrial fibrillation, gluten intolerance,
depression and anxiety, recurrent kidney stones, nausea,
dizziness, fatigue, arthritis in left foot, stress fracture
in left foot, abdominal pain, and heavy post-menopausal
bleeding. AR 175, 186. The Social Security Administration
denied Plaintiff's application on February 6, 2015,
see Id. at 71, 72-85, and on reconsideration on July
8, 2015. AR 86, 87-105.
appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative
hearing conducted on September 8, 2016, before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 37-70. A vocational expert
(VE) testified at the hearing. AR 65-69. The ALJ issued a
decision in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 7-23. Following
the agency's well-established sequential evaluation
procedure, the ALJ found at the first step that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September
12, 2013. AR 12. At the second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had severe impairments of IBS, cervical spine degenerative
disc disease, obesity, and anxiety disorder. Id. At
the third step, the ALJ found these impairments were not
per se disabling as Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment. AR
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of light
work. AR 17. Specifically, Plaintiff can lift, carry, push,
or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently.
Id. Plaintiff can stand, walk, or sit six hours in
an eight-hour workday. Id. Plaintiff is limited to
performing simple and routine tasks and some complex tasks,
allowing for semi-skilled work. Id. She must perform
work in a habituated work setting, and have only superficial
contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
on the VE's testimony as to the ability of a hypothetical
individual with Plaintiff's work history, age, education,
and determined RFC, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform
her past relevant work as a file clerk and data entry clerk.
AR 22-23. Based on this finding, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff
had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social
Security Act, from September 12, 2013 through the date of the
decision. AR 23.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
and therefore the ALJ's decision is the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981;
Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir.
raises four issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff contends the
ALJ erred by failing to include specific, functionally
distinct limitations for Plaintiff's IBS and anxiety.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. #14) at 6-14. Second,
Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff's
stress incontinence as a non-severe impairment and account
for the same in the RFC. Id. at 14-19. Third,
Plaintiff claims the ALJ failed to properly consider the
medical opinions of record. Id. at 19-22. Finally,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to properly analyze obesity
and account for it accordingly in the RFC. Id. at
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 (citations, quotations, and
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 which 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.
§404.1509 (duration requirement). Both the
“impairment” and the “inability” must
be expected to last not less than twelve months. Barnhart
v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002).
agency follows a five-step sequential evaluation procedure in
resolving the claims of disability applicants. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), (b)-(g). “If the
claimant is not considered disabled at step three, but has
satisfied her burden of establishing a prima facie case of
disability under steps one, two, and four, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show the claimant has the [RFC] to
perform other work in the national economy in view of her
age, education, and work experience.” Fischer-Ross
v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005).
“The claimant is entitled to disability benefits only
if he [or she] is not able to perform other work.”
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987).
RFC in Relation to Plaintiff's Anxiety Disorder
first claim of error, Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to
include specific functional limitations resulting from
Plaintiff's anxiety disorder. Doc. #14 at 6-10, 12-14.
The ALJ accounted for Plaintiff's anxiety by limiting her
to simple and routine tasks, some complex tasks, a habituated
work setting, and only superficial contact with others. AR
17. Plaintiff insists her anxiety and its symptoms should
have resulted in an RFC restricting her to work with low
stress and no public contact, as well as the allowance of
unscheduled breaks. Doc. #14 at 10.
cites to the ALJ's statement that the “sparseness
of the medical evidence suggests that the claimant has not
gone to treating psychiatric sources” for her mental
impairment and therefore, it is not as severe as alleged.
Doc. #14 at 7 (quoting AR 19). Plaintiff interprets this
statement as indicating she did not adequately seek and/or
obtain mental health treatment. Id. She counters by
citing to mental health treatment records from “a
psychiatrist, counselor, and primary care physician.”
asserting this argument, Plaintiff clearly takes the
ALJ's statements out of context. The ALJ stated only that
Plaintiff had not seen a treating psychiatric source
often. AR 19. The record reflects Plaintiff only went to
one psychiatrist in relation to her anxiety and that was for
a short time period when she saw Dr. Richard Yokell from
March to June 2015. AR 1148, 1151-69. In this regard, the
ALJ's statement is technically accurate.
the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the lack of
psychiatric medical sources is not a sufficient
basis, standing alone, to discount a plaintiff's mental
impairment and its resulting symptoms. This is especially
true where, as here, Plaintiff sought mental health treatment
from other medical sources. Significantly, however, the ALJ
discussed Plaintiff's mental health treatment records
from various providers in detail in determining the RFC.
essentially cherry picks from the record to argue there is
not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings.
For example, Plaintiff cites to Dr. Yokell's records to
note that she felt like a failure, did not want to wake up in
the morning, was unsure of her purpose, experiences anxiety,
and isolates herself inside her home. Doc. #14 at 8. However,
these are Plaintiff's subjective reports at her initial
appointment, not findings by Dr. Yokell. AR 1165. Plaintiff
also relies upon Dr. Yokell's initial assessment
of Plaintiff wherein he checked boxes for “multiple
previous attempts or self injury, ” “depressive