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Owen v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 23, 2019

JOHN ALAN OWEN, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff John Alan Owen 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 application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Having reviewed the administrative record (Doc. No. 12, hereinafter “R. ”), [2] and the arguments and authorities submitted by the parties, the Court reverses the Commissioner’s decisions and remands the case for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff protectively filed his DIB application on February 15, 2015, and ultimately alleged disability beginning January 6, 2015. R. 12, 28, 155-56. The SSA denied his application initially and on reconsideration. R. 64-91. At Plaintiff’s request, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 13, 2016, after which the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 4, 2017. R. 9-63.

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in determining Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathy. R. 14.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 14-15.

         The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) during the relevant period, based on all of his medically determinable impairments, and found that Plaintiff had the ability to perform light work “except no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds.” R. 15; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).

         Relying upon the hearing testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a chaplain. R. 19. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant period. R. 19-20. The SSA Appeals Council denied review, R. 1-5, and the ALJ’s unfavorable determination stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.


         This Court’s judicial 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, ” in determining whether the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks omitted). Though 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).


         In this action, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ committed legal error by failing to properly evaluate the December 2016 Medical Assessment Form (the “2016 MAF”) of Plaintiff’s treating physician, R. Michael Eimen, DO. See Pl.’s Br. (Doc. No. 19) at 7-12.

         A. The Relevant Record

         The record contains evidence of Plaintiff’s treatment by Dr. Eimen for various issues, but chiefly fibromyalgia and pain, from January 2015 through December 2016. In January 2015, Plaintiff was treated for fibromyalgia. R. 267-68. A few months later, Plaintiff returned with complaints including pain; Dr. Eimen ordered a brain MRI and adjusted the prescribed medications. R. 284-87. In May 2015, Dr. Eimen noted Plaintiff’s complaints of dizziness, pain, and sleep apnea, as well as the fact that Plaintiff was undergoing laser treatment for fibromyalgia trigger points. R. 282-83. The next ...

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