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
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income 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 applications for benefits. Following
an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 15-28). 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 & 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since December 31, 2012, her alleged onset date. (TR. 17). At
step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Smith had the following
severe impairments: obesity; fibromyalgia; parenchymal
disease; and asthma. (TR. 18). 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. 21).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Smith retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform a modified range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, the claimant can
lift and carry 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently;
stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; and sit
six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can frequently stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant must avoid more than
occasional exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and pulmonary
(TR. 21-22). At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
had no past relevant work. (TR. 25). Accordingly, the ALJ
proceeded to step five. In doing so, 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. 70). Given the limitations, the
VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT). (TR. 70). The ALJ adopted the testimony of the
VE and concluded that Ms. Smith was not disabled based on her
ability to perform the identified jobs. (TR. 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 error: (1) at step two, (2) in the
consideration of her obesity, and (3) in the consideration of
an opinion from a Physician's Assistant (PA).
NO ERROR AT STEP TWO
two, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Smith suffered from severe
impairments involving: obesity; fibromyalgia; parenchymal
disease; and asthma. (TR. 18). Ms. Smith alleges that the ALJ
erroneously failed to find “severe” impairments
involving hypertension, diabetes, and low back and joint
pain. (ECF No. 19:18-21). The Court disagrees.
an ALJ finds that a claimant has at least one severe
impairment, he does not err in failing to designate other
disorders as severe at step two, because at later steps the
agency will consider the combined effect of all the
claimant's impairments without regard to whether any such
impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient
severity.” Barrett v. Astrue, 340 Fed.Appx.
481, 484 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal citation omitted).
Because the ALJ found Plaintiff had at least one severe
impairment, that “was all the ALJ was required to do in
that regard.” Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254,
1256- 1257 (10th Cir. 2007). Consequently, the undersigned
“can easily dispose of” Plaintiff's step-two
challenge. Oldham, 509 F.3d at 1256; see
also Brescia v. Astrue, 287 Fed.Appx. 626, 629
(10th Cir. 2008) (“Once an ALJ has found that a
claimant has at least one severe impairment, a failure to
designate another disorder as ‘severe' at step two
does not constitute reversible error....”).
NO ERROR IN THE CONSIDERATION OF OBESITY
Smith contends that the ALJ failed to properly analyze
Plaintiff's obesity and consider the effects of the
impairment throughout the sequential evaluation process, as
required by Social Security Ruling (SSR) 02-1p. (ECF No.
19:16-18). SSR 02-1p requires an ALJ to consider the effects
of obesity when assessing the RFC, including the fact that
“the combined effects of obesity with other impairments
can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately.” SSR 02-1p, 2000 WL 628049, at
*1 (Sept. 12, 2002). Thus, an ALJ may “not make
assumptions about the severity or functional effects of
obesity combined with other impairments, ” but rather,
must “evaluate each case based on the information in
the case record.” Id. at *6. According to Ms.
Smith, the ALJ: (1) provided an improper rationale in
discounting the obesity and (2) failed to assess certain
limitations related to the impairment. (ECF No. 19:16-18).
Neither argument has merit.
Ms. Smith criticizes the ALJ's acknowledgment and
discussion of Plaintiff's testimony regarding her
obesity. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified: (1) her obesity
“affect[ed] her] breathing” and (2) her bones
“felt like they [were] grinding” when she walked,
which she attributed to her weight. (TR. 62). The ALJ
acknowledged the testimony, but found that Plaintiff's
statements concerning the “intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects” of the symptoms she described to be
“not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record.” (TR. 23). In so doing,
the ALJ noted:
The claimant is also obese, with a BMI generally in the
mid-to-upper 30s. Treatment providers have consistently
emphasized the claimant's need to diet, exercise, and
lose weight. The claimant testified that she has made
unsuccessful attempts to lose weight and that she ...