Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Honisberg v. Berrryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 7, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Administrative History and Final Agency Decision

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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 15.

         At step 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. Id.

         Relying 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.

         The 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. 2009).

         II. Issues Raised

         Plaintiff 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 22-28.

         III. General Legal Standards Guiding Judicial Review

         The 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 brackets omitted).

         The 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).

         The 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).

         IV. RFC in Relation to Plaintiff's Anxiety Disorder

         In her 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.

         Plaintiff 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.” Id.

         In 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.

         Nevertheless, 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.

         Plaintiff 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 turmoil, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.