United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
F. Jayne, United States District Judge.
Marilyn P. seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her claims for disability insurance benefits under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act 9 (“Act”), 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and 1382c(a)(3). In
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the
parties have consented to proceed before a United States
reasons explained below, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision denying benefits and remands for
further proceedings. Any appeal of this decision will be
directly to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Standard of Review
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported
by substantial evidence. See Grogan v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence
is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Glass v.
Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994)). 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.” Hamlin
v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004)
(quotations omitted). The Court must “meticulously
examine the record as a whole, including anything that may
undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to
determine if the substantiality test has been met.”
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261 (citing Washington v.
Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). The Court
may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if
the Court might have reached a different conclusion, the
Commissioner's decision stands so long as it is supported
by substantial evidence. See White v. Barnhart, 287
F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).
Procedural History and the ALJ's Decision
then a 52-year-old female, applied for Title II benefits on
August 26, 2014, and applied for Title XVI benefits on
November 4, 2015, alleging a disability onset date in both
applications of April 16, 2014. R. 280. Plaintiff claimed
that she was unable to work due to disorders including a
heart attack, neck problems, and back disc problems. R. 471.
Plaintiff's claims for benefits were denied initially on
May 27, 2015, and on reconsideration on September 25, 2015.
R. 358-362; 364-366. Plaintiff then requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and
the ALJ conducted the hearing on August 16, 2016. R. 280,
298-325. The ALJ issued a decision on November 10, 2016,
denying benefits and finding Plaintiff not disabled because
she was able to perform her past relevant work. R. 280-291.
The Appeals Council denied review, and Plaintiff appealed. R.
1-6; ECF No. 2.
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of
the Act through December 31, 2017, and that she had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date of April 16, 2014. R. 282. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
cerebrovascular accident/myocardial infarction with three
stents; degenerative disc disease; asthma; obesity; general
anxiety disorder; and major depressive disorder. Id.
At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments of such severity to
result in listing-level impairments. R. 283-284.
summarized Plaintiff's testimony as follows: Plaintiff
said she cannot work due to problems stemming from a heart
attack, neck problems, and back disc problems. These problems
combined with medication side effects interfere with her
ability to stand, walk, sit, lift, perform postural
movements, concentrate, and complete tasks. She experiences
occasional chest pains, angina, shortness of breath, and
fatigue from her heart condition. Plaintiff stated that she
has asthma and treats it with a nebulizer, but that exercise,
anxiety, and exposure to environmental irritants exacerbates
her condition. She uses a cane when walking, can lift four
pounds, walk approximately five minutes with her cane, sit
for ten minutes, and stand for ten minutes. Plaintiff said
pain interferes with her sleep, requires her to lie down
sixty percent of the day, and interferes with her ability to
concentrate. R. 285-286, 302-321.
respect to the objective medical evidence, the ALJ first
summarized Plaintiff's hospitalizations in April and
September of 2014. On both occasions, Plaintiff reported
chest pains and underwent heart catheterizations and the
placement of stents. The ALJ further discussed emergency room
records dated June 16, 2015, which revealed Plaintiff
presented with complaints of retrosternal tightness with
nausea, sweating, and shortness of breath without
palpitations, dizziness, or weakness. Id.
Nitroglycerin tablets and a dose of Ativan completely
relieved Plaintiff's symptoms, and an EKG showed normal
sinus rhythm. Id. The ALJ noted that the remainder
of Plaintiff's cardiology examinations showed
“benign results.” Id. The ALJ also
discussed Plaintiff's reports of chronic back pain, in
the spring of 2016, to Plaintiff's treating physician
Martin Cooper, M.D. Dr. Cooper examined Plaintiff and found
trace edema, and decreased range of motion in her lumbar
spine with pain. R. 287, 944, 947.
respect to the medical opinion evidence, the ALJ gave great
weight “with one exception” to the opinion of
Plaintiff's cardiologist, Anthony Haney, M.D. R. 287-288,
see 923-925. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr.
Cooper's opinion, which imposed more severe physical and
mental limitations than Dr. Haney's, explaining it was
inconsistent with Dr. Haney's opinion, and that Dr.
Haney's was “more consistent with the medical
record.” R. 288. The ALJ assigned no weight to the
opinion of Plaintiff's chiropractor, Colin Quigley, D.C.,
because it was inconsistent with the record and Dr.
Haney's opinion. Id. The ALJ also gave great
weight to the opinion of consultative examiner David Wiegman,
M.D., who found mostly normal range of motion with
“slightly decreased flexion, extension and rotation of
[Plaintiff's] cervical spine.” Id. The ALJ
contrasted Dr. Wiegman's opinion with others finding a
need for substantial time off task and listed Dr.
Wiegman's opinion as further evidence to discount the
opinions of Dr. Cooper and Mr. Quigley. Id. The ALJ
also afforded great weight to the state agency medical
consultant opinions, who made similar findings to Dr. Haney.
R. 289. The ALJ noted that later developed evidence,
including Dr. Haney's opinion, allowed the ALJ to
“expand upon [the agency doctors'] opinion[s] to
reference the claimant's requirement to use a cane and
the limitation to occasional postural movements.”
Id. Finally, the ALJ gave little weight to the state
agency psychological consultants' non-severe mental
findings, because they did not “have the benefit of new
and material evidence or personal examination” of
concluded that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a reduced
range of light work as follows:
No lifting or carrying more than 20 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for up to six hours and
sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour work day;
occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and
crawl; she can perform simple and detailed tasks; no exposure
to more than a normal level of gases, fumes, dusts, noxious
odors, poor ventilation, or pulmonary irritants when normal
is defined as a setting found in a typical office or
commercial building; she requires a cane when ambulating.
R. 285. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has past relevant work
as an administrative clerk (light exertion; semi-skilled; SVP
4; DOT 219.362-010). R. 290. Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found at step
four that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as
an administrative clerk as generally performed and as she
actually performed it. Id. The ALJ made no
alternative step five findings. Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded Plaintiff was ...