United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits under the
Social Security Act. The Commissioner has answered and filed
a transcript of the administrative record (hereinafter TR.
___). The parties have consented to jurisdiction over this
matter by a United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c).
parties have briefed their positions, and the matter is now
at issue. Based on the Court's review of the record and
the issues presented, the Court AFFIRMS the
and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration
denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following an
administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-27). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3).
Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required
by agency regulations. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart,
431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1,
2013, her alleged onset date. (TR. 17). At step two, the ALJ
determined Ms. Johnson had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease; narcolepsy; seizures; status post
hip disorder; status post thyroidectomy; chronic pain
syndrome; major depressive disorder; posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD); and anxiety disorder. (TR. 17). At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not
meet or medically equal any of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (TR. 19).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Johnson retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
the claimant: can occasionally stoop, kneel, and crawl; can
understand and remember simple instructions; and perform work
related to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks.
(TR. 21). With this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was
unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR. 25). As a
result, the ALJ made additional findings at step five. There,
the ALJ presented several limitations to a vocational expert
(VE) to determine whether there were other jobs in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 53-54).
Given the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 54). The ALJ adopted
the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Johnson was
not disabled based on her ability to perform the identified
jobs. (TR. 26-27).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews the Commissioner's final “decision to
determin[e] whether the factual findings are 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).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).
the court considers whether the ALJ followed the applicable
rules of law in weighing particular types of evidence in
disability cases, the court will “neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the
agency.” Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201
(10th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in evaluating: (1)
the RFC, (2) a consultative examiners' opinion, and (3)
Plaintiff's subjective allegations.
NO ERROR IN THE RFC
stated, the ALJ determined Ms. Johnson had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; narcolepsy;
seizures; status post hip disorder; status post
thyroidectomy; chronic pain syndrome; major depressive
disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and anxiety
disorder. (TR. 17). Ms. Johnson alleges that the ALJ failed
to include limitations in the RFC stemming from these severe
impairments, along with limitations related to non-severe
impairments involving constipation, migraine headaches, and a
Vitamin D deficiency. (ECF No. 15:6-27). The Court disagrees.
ALJ's Duty in Assessing the RFC
claimant's impairments are deemed severe at step two, the
ALJ has a duty to discuss their impact throughout the
remainder of the disability determination. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(2). Indeed, in formulating the RFC, the ALJ must
discuss the combined effect of al
the claimant's medically determinable impairments, both
severe and nonsevere. See Wells v. Colvin,
727 F.3d 1061, 1065 (10th Cir. 2013). However, “a
finding that an impairment is severe at step two is not
determinative of the claimant's RFC.” Johnson
v. Berryhill, 679 Fed.Appx. 682, 687 (10th Cir. 2017).
question is not whether the RFC recounts or lists the
‘severe' impairments found at step two, but whether
the RFC accounts for the work-related limitations that flow
from those impairments.” Cavalier v. Colvin,
13-CV-651-FHM, 2014 WL 7408430, at *2 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 30,
2014). In assessing an individual's RFC, the ALJ must
consider the limitations and restrictions imposed by a
claimant's severe impairments and express any limitations
in terms of specific, work-related activities he or she is
able to perform. See SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at
*6-7 (July 2, 1996).
Degenerative Disc Disease
argues that her degenerative disc disease caused her chronic
pain and difficulty sitting and standing “for any
prolonged period of time.” (ECF No. 15:7). According to
Ms. Johnson “it does not support the light RFC and the
ability to stand and walk most of the day” and
“at a minimum, a sit-stand option should have been
considered by the ALJ.” (ECF No. 15:7).
argument lacks merit because she has failed to meet her
burden of proof that her degenerative disc disease would
interfere with her ability to perform light work or that she
would require a sit-stand option. “The burden to prove
disability in a social security case is on the claimant, and
to meet this burden, the claimant must furnish medical and
other evidence of the existence of the disability.”
Branum v. Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1271 (10th Cir.
2004); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(c) (explaining,
in context of DIB, that claimant bears responsibility for
identifying or submitting evidence that relates to finding of
support of her argument regarding her difficulty sitting and
standing and the need for a “sit-stand” option,
Plaintiff cites: (1) her own testimony and (2) a single
medical record from Dr. Bruce Mackey. (ECF No. 15:7).
hearing, Ms. Johnson stated that her chronic pain was
aggravated by sitting or standing “for any prolonged
period of time.” (TR. 37). The ALJ considered the
testimony and then discounted it, stating “[Ms.
Johnson's] . . . chronic pain and back impairments, while
painful, [were] not as functionally limiting as
alleged.” (TR. 22). In reaching this conclusion, the
ALJ cited “little evidence of chronic debilitating
pain, such as repeated episodes of muscle atrophy, spasms, or
reduced range of motion.” (TR. 22).
Johnson also cites a medical record from Dr. Mackey, wherein
the physician diagnosed “chronic pain syndrome with
intervertebral disc disorder with myelopathy, lumbar
region.” But “[t]he mere diagnosis of a condition
does not establish its severity or any resulting work
limitations.” Paulsen v. Colvin, 665 Fed.Appx.
660, 668 (10th Cir. 2016).
Johnson does not specifically challenge the ALJ's
treatment of her testimony, but only argues that she could
not perform light work and the RFC should have included a
sit-stand option. (ECF No. 15:7). But Plaintiff's
testimony, which the ALJ had discounted, and a diagnosis,
without more, are insufficient bases on which to disturb the
RFC determination. See McNally v. Astrue, 241 F.
App'x. 515, 518 (10th Cir. 2007) (“with regard to
[her severe impairments], the claimant has shown no error by
the ALJ because she does not . . . discuss any evidence that
would support the inclusion of any limitations.”)
(citation omitted). Accordingly, the Court rejects
Plaintiff's argument that the RFC should have included
additional limitations related to her degenerative disc
Narcolepsy, Status Post Thyroidectomy, and Vitamin D
states that her narcolepsy causes her to “fall
asleep” and she suffers fatigue owing to her
narcolepsy, her thyroidectomy, and a Vitamin D deficiency.
(ECF No. 15:7-10, 14-16). As a result, Plaintiff alleges
error through the ALJ's failure to account for these
conditions in the RFC or explain the lack of related
limitations. (ECF No. 15:7-10, 14-16).
support of her argument that “sleep limitations”
ought to have been included in the RFC, Plaintiff cites: (1)
her own testimony, (2) a Google search, and (3) a scholarly
article. (ECF No. 15:7-10, 11-12).
hearing, Ms. Johnson stated:
• she had “severe fatigue, ”
• she could “fall asleep even sitting there
• her thyroid condition and medication made her