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Connie S. W. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 25, 2019

CONNIE S. W., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Now before the Court is the Report and Recommendation (Dkt. # 21) of the magistrate judge recommending that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision to deny plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Plaintiff filed an objection (Dkt. # 22) to the report and recommendation, and she asks the Court to remand the case for further administrative proceedings. Defendant filed a response (Dkt. # 23) to plaintiff's objection.


         On January 7, 2015, plaintiff applied for Social Security disability benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of October 3, 2014. Dkt. # 12, at 207. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Id. at 61, 136, 144.

         On February 23, 2017, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before the ALJ and was represented by counsel. Id. at 61-63. At the hearing, plaintiff testified that she has continual throbbing back pain, which she described as a sharp and sometimes sickening feeling. Id. at 77. Plaintiff explained that she has swelling in her lower back due to nerve pain, which feels like she is sitting on a rock. Id. at 78. Plaintiff testified that if she sits or stands for too long-about 30 minutes-she gets numbness and a shooting pain down her left leg. Id. at 79-80. Plaintiff also testified that Curt Coggins, M.D., is her primary care physician, and that she has been seeing Dr. Coggins since 2006. Id. at 76. Plaintiff testified that Dr. Coggins told her that she has a Tarlov cyst on her sacrum that is causing the pain. Id. at 78.

         Included in the record before the ALJ was a physical residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment completed by Dr. Coggins on February 22, 2017. Id. at 537-40. Dr. Coggins opined that plaintiff could sit for 4 hours, stand for 2 hours, and walk for 1 hour in an 8-hour day; could never bend, squat, crawl, climb, or reach; and could frequently carry up to 5 pounds and occasionally carry up to 10 pounds. Id. at 537-38. Further, Dr. Coggins noted that, even if plaintiff were allowed to perform a job within those parameters, she would not be able to perform such work on a sustained and continuing basis due to her pain levels and because the medication required to alleviate that pain is too intrusive. Id. at 538. Dr. Coggins opined that plaintiff's impairments would cause her to be absent from work more than three times a month. Id. at 539. As support for his RFC assessment, Dr. Coggins cited his medical findings: “Tarlov cyst on sacrum and resulting neurological pain. Tender to palpations on the cyst and with reproduction of her pain. MRI supports this with degenerative [changes] and location of cyst juxtaposing the broad [left] sacral nerve. Would require lying down periodically during the short work hours she could sustain.” Id. at 540.

         On May 17, 2017, the ALJ entered a written decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Id. at 16-34. The ALJ reviewed Dr. Coggins' opinions in the RFC, and concluded that there is nothing in Dr. Coggins' treatment records to support his opinions other than plaintiff's claims. Id. at 31. Therefore, the ALJ gave little weight to all of Dr. Coggins' opinions, finding them to be completely unsupported in the medical record. Id. at 31-32. With respect to plaintiff's cyst, the ALJ found that plaintiff's hearing testimony is not consistent with the findings of Dr. Coggins: “The claimant testified that Dr. Coggins supposedly told her that the cyst was a major cause of her alleged pain. The record shows Dr. Coggins submitted a disabling medical source statement. However, there is nothing in it about the effects of the caudal cyst. Additionally, the treatment records of Dr. Coggins also do not contain any diagnosis or treatment for the cyst.” Id. at 30 (internal citations omitted).

         The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work with the following additional limitations:

[N]o climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Climbing ramps or/stairs [sic], stooping, crouching, crawling, kneeling, balancing, can be done occasionally. No. exposure to unprotected heights, open flames, dangerous machinery or equipment, or other hazardous conditions (not all-moving machinery is dangerous-such as machinery where moving parts are shielded). Handling and fingering limited to frequent bilaterally. Due to mental impairments, the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple or intermediate level instructions, and perform simple and some takes of intermediate level difficulty under routine supervision, such that she is capable of doing simple or at most semi-skilled work. The claimant can relate to supervisors and coworkers on a superficial work related basis and can adopt [sic] to a work situation. The claimant can have only occasional contact with the general public.

Id. at 25. The ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. Id. at 32. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform other sedentary work, such as clerical mailer, assembler, and stuffer. Id. at 33-34. Further, the ALJ determined these positions existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 34. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded plaintiff was not disabled. Id.

         Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's adverse decision by the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council found no basis under its rules to review the decision. Id. at 6. Plaintiff filed this case seeking judicial review of the denial of her claim for disability benefits, and the matter was referred to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. The magistrate judge recommends that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. Dkt. # 21, at 1.


         Without consent of the parties, the Court may refer any pretrial matter dispositive of a claim to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. However, the parties may object to the magistrate judge's recommendation within 14 days of service of the recommendation. Schrader v. Fred A. Ray, M.D., P.C., 296 F.3d 968, 975 (10th Cir. 2002); Vega v. Suthers, 195 F.3d 573, 579 (10th Cir. 1999). The Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 ...

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