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 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 REVERSES AND
REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.
and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration
denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following a
hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an
unfavorable decision. (TR. 18-29). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (TR. 1-3). Thus, the
decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the
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. § 416.920.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 21,
2016, her application date. (TR. 20). At step two, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Nelson had the following severe
impairments: affective disorder; anxiety disorder; and
borderline intellectual functioning. (TR. 20). 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. 20).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Nelson retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
[Perform] a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: limited to
perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks and occasional
contact with the public.
(TR. 22). At the administrative hearing, the ALJ questioned
Ms. Nelson and a vocational expert (VE) to assess
Plaintiff's past relevant work. (TR. 41-42, 53-54). In
doing so, the VE testified that an individual with Ms.
Nelson's RFC was capable of performing her past work as a
housekeeper, as that job is generally performed in the
national economy. (TR. 54). Thus, at step four, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Nelson was not disabled based on her
ability to perform this past job. (TR. 27). Even so, the ALJ
made alternate findings at step five.
five, the ALJ presented the RFC limitations to the VE to
determine whether there were other jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 54-55). Given the
limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the Dictionary
of Occupational Titles. (TR. 55). The ALJ adopted the
testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Nelson was also
not disabled at step five based on her ability to perform the
identified jobs. (TR. 28).
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). Under the
“substantial evidence” standard, a court looks to
an existing administrative record and asks whether it
contains “sufficien[t] evidence” to support the
agency's factual determinations. Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
“Substantial evidence … is more than a mere
scintilla … and means only-such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct.
at 1154 (internal citations and quotation marks 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, Ms. Nelson alleges the ALJ erred in evaluating: (1)
the medical evidence and (2) Plaintiff's subjective
ERROR IN THE CONSIDERATION OF THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE
Nelson alleges error in the ALJ's consideration of
certain medical evidence. (ECF No. 16:8-11). Specifically,
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to give more
weight to the opinion of a treating physician, Dr. Charles
Shields, over the opinions of two non-examining State Agency
physicians. (ECF No. 16:8-11). The Court finds no merit in
this allegation of error.
The ALJ's Duties in Evaluating Medical Opinions
of its source, the ALJ has a duty to evaluate every medical
opinion in the record. Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d
1208, 1215 (10th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). The
weight given each opinion will vary according to the
relationship between the claimant and the medical
professional. Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1215. For example,
in evaluating a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ
must follow a two-pronged analysis. First, the ALJ must
determine, then explain, whether the opinion is entitled to
controlling weight. Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d
1116, 1119 (10th Cir. 2004).
analysis, in turn, consists of two phases. First, an ALJ must
consider whether the opinion is “well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and consistent with other substantial
evidence in the record. Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles
II and XVI: Giving Controlling Weight to Treating Source
Medical Opinions, 1996 WL 374188, at 2 (July 2, 1996)
(internal quotations omitted). If controlling weight is
declined, the ALJ must assess the opinion under a series of
factors which are considered when assessing any
medical opinion, regardless of its source. These factors
include: (1) the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, including the treatment provided and
the kind of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree
to which the physician's opinion is supported by relevant
evidence; (4) the consistency between the opinion and the
record as a whole; (5) whether or not the physician is a
specialist in the area upon which an opinion is rendered; and
(6) other factors brought to the ALJ's attention which
tend to support or contradict the opinion. Krausner
v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1330 (10th Cir. 2011); 20
C.F.R § 416.927(c).
the ALJ need not explicitly discuss each factor, the reasons
stated must be “sufficiently specific” to permit
meaningful appellate review. See Oldham v. Astrue,
509 F.3d 1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2007). If the ALJ rejects an
opinion completely, he must give “specific, legitimate
reasons” for doing so. Watkins v. Barnhart,
350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal citations
of physicians who have seen a claimant over a period of time
for purposes of treatment are generally given more weight
over the views of consulting physicians or those who only
review the medical records and never examine the claimant.
Robinson v. Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1084 (10th Cir.
2004). Error is only found when an ALJ rejects an opinion
from a treating physician in favor of a non-examining
physician “absent a legally sufficient reason for doing
Opinions from Dr. Shields and Non-Examining State
medical record contains two letters authored by Dr. Charles
Shields which document findings regarding Plaintiff's
physical abilities following two examinations. (TR. 448-451).
In a letter dated April 14, 2015, Dr. Shields: (1) noted that
Plaintiff had complained of lower back and left knee pain
since 2009 and (2) ordered x-rays. (TR. 450).[1 ...