United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dannell Williams 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
(“SSA”) denying Plaintiff's applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, and for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, id. §§ 1381-1383f. Upon review of the
administrative record (Doc. No. 10, hereinafter “R.
”) and the arguments and authorities submitted by the
parties, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
HISTORY AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on
October 1, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of February
1, 2014. R. 20, 185-92, 225. Following denial of
Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration,
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing. R. 36-62, 121-29, 132-37. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on September 16, 2016. R. 20-31.
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset date of February 1, 2014. R.
22. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
moderate obstructive sleep apnea, angina pectoris without
ischemic heart disease, and obesity. R. 22-25. At step three,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not
meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R.
next assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) based on all of her impairments. R.
26-29. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work subject to the environmental restriction that
Plaintiff “should avoid concentrated exposure to
pulmonary irritants such as fumes[, ] odors, dust, gases, and
poor ventilation.” R. 26; see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b) (defining “light
work”). At step four, relying on hearing testimony from
a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as
a customer service representative. R. 29-30.
to step five, the ALJ considered whether there are jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff-in view of her age, education, work experience, and
RFC-could perform. Relying on the framework provided in the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 2, the ALJ made the alternative finding that
Plaintiff's nonexertional environmental limitations had
little or no effect on the unskilled light occupational base
and, thus, Plaintiff likewise would be found “not
disabled.” R. 30-31.
therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
February 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. R. 31.
The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's unfavorable decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-6; see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. This action for
judicial review followed.
review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to
determining whether factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether
correct legal standards were applied. 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) (internal quotation marks 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)
(internal quotation marks omitted). The court
“meticulously examine[s] the record as a whole, ”
including any evidence “that may undercut or detract
from the ALJ's findings, ” “to determine if
the substantiality test has been met.” Wall,
561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). While a
reviewing court considers whether the Commissioner followed
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).
action, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in considering
certain medical evidence: specifically, opinions from
physicians Clayton Royder, DO, and Adonis Al-Botros, MD.
See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. No. 17) at 6-13.
Additionally, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have
included in the RFC restrictions related to Plaintiff's
depression, edema, and incontinence. See Id. at
Whether the ALJ erred in considering Dr. Royder's
first asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to adopt certain
findings in the opinion of Dr. Royder, one of Plaintiff's
treating physicians. See Pl.'s Br. at 6-7. Dr.
Royder completed a Mental Status Form, in which he opined, as
relevant here, that Plaintiff can “respond to work
pressure, supervision and coworkers” “if
medicated.” R. 411 (Ex. 4F, at 2). Additionally, Dr.
Royder recorded Plaintiff's diagnosis as “bipolar,
uncontrolled.” R. 411. The ALJ gave this opinion
“great weight.” R. 24.
argues that Dr. Royder's diagnosis and reference to
medication indicates that Plaintiff is “not under
control” and that “medication appears to be an
issue whose resolution is required for work.” Pl.'s
Br. at 7. Plaintiff argues that she is, therefore, unable to
work. See Id. It is not the diagnosis, however, but
resultant functional limitations that determine disability,
and there is nothing in Dr. Royder's opinion that
evidences an inability to perform work-related functions.
See Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 301 (10th Cir.
1988) (noting that the diagnosis of major depression did not
establish disability where nowhere in the report did the
physician “indicate that [claimant's] depression
was so severe as to render him unable to perform the duties
of his past relevant work”); accord Madridv. Astrue, 243 Fed.Appx. 387, 392 (10th Cir. 2007).
Indeed, as set forth above, Dr. Royder found that Plaintiff
is capable of working if medicated. See R. 411. And,
as Plaintiff noted, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
“recent mental health notes reflect improvement of
[Plaintiff's] symptoms with medication.” R. 24
(citing Ex. 8F (R. 686-717); Pl.'s Br. At 6 (citing R.