United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michelle Anderson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for judicial review of the Social Security
Administration’s (SSA) denial of disability benefits.
The SSA Commissioner has answered and filed 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.
applications for supplemental security income and disability
insurance benefits were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 13-31). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review.
(TR. 1-4). Ms. Anderson then filed an appeal in this Court,
which remanded the matter for further administrative
proceedings. (TR. 1010-1032). Following a second
administrative hearing, the ALJ issued another unfavorable
decision. (TR. 905-920). Plaintiff did not file an appeal
with the Appeals Council, but instead filed the instant
action. (ECF No. 1). Thus, it is in this posture that the
case is before the Court once again, with the second decision
of the ALJ being the final decision of the Commissioner.
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. §§
404.1520 & 416.920. At step one, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 3, 2013, the alleged disability onset date.
(TR. 908). At step two, the ALJ determined Ms. Anderson had
the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis; right hip
labrum repair; migraines; degenerative disc disease-lumbar
spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; mitral valve
prolapse; depression; bipolar disorder; and anxiety. (TR.
908). 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. 909).
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past
relevant work. (TR. 918). The ALJ further concluded that Ms.
Anderson had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except the claimant can lift 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk 6 hours in
an 8 hour day; sit 6 hours in an 8 hour day with normal
breaks; never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; occasional
climbing ramps/stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; no exposure to environmental irritants
such as odors, fumes, dusts, and gases; simple, routine,
repetitive tasks; occasional interaction with coworkers,
supervisors, and the public; and free of production rate
on the finding that Ms. Anderson could not perform her past
relevant work, the ALJ proceeded to step five. There, the ALJ
presented the RFC limitations to a vocational expert (VE) to
determine whether there were other jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. (TR. 944-945). Given
the limitations, the VE identified three jobs from the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (TR. 945). The ALJ adopted
the testimony of the VE and concluded that Ms. Anderson was
not disabled based on her ability to perform the identified
jobs. (TR. 920).
appeal, Ms. Anderson alleges the ALJ erred in failing to
properly: (1) evaluate evidence related to Plaintiff’s
migraine headaches and (2) evaluate Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints. (ECF No. 13:4-13).
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).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation 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).
THE ALJ’S CONSIDERATION OF EVIDENCE RELATED TO
PLAINTIFF’S MIGRAINE HEADACHES
record contains evidence from Deaconess Family Care which
documents Plaintiff’s treatment for migraine headaches
from Dr. Douglas Brant and Advanced Registered Nurse
Practitioner Lyn Brant, from January 2011 through October
2014. (TR. 349-375, 377-668, 676-692, 701-896). According to
Ms. Anderson, the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider
and evaluate: (1) evidence from Nurse Brant that
Plaintiff’s migraines were “disabling” and
(2) opinions from Dr. Brant regarding Plaintiff’s
migraines and associated symptoms and limitations. (ECF No.
13:4-9). The Court agrees.
Evidence from Nurse Brant
March 24, 2014, Ms. Anderson was seen by Nurse Brant,
complaining of a migraine which rated 7/10 on the pain scale.
(TR. 841). In summarizing the visit, Nurse Brant stated that
“[Plaintiff’s] migraines are disabling.”
(TR. 846). Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in failing to
consider this particular statement from Nurse Brant,
the Commissioner disagrees, arguing: (1) the statement from
Nurse Brant was not a “medical opinion, ” (2)
Nurse Brant was not considered an “acceptable medical
source, ” and (3) the statement concerned an issue of
disability, which was reserved to the Commissioner. (ECF No.
threshold matter, the Court agrees with the Commissioner that
Nurse Brant is not considered an “acceptable medical
source” and therefore cannot give a “medical
opinion” within the meaning of the Commissioner’s
regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(a)(1), 416.927(a)(1); SSR 06-3p, 2006 WL 2329939, at
*2 (Aug. 9, 2006).However, Nurse Brant is considered a
nonacceptable or “other” medical source, and, as
such, her opinion is to be considered as evidence
“show[ing] the severity of the individual’s
impairment(s) and how it affects the individual’s
ability to function.” SSR 06-3p, at *2.
Commissioner argues that Nurse Brant’s comment
regarding Plaintiff’s headaches being
“disabling” involved an issue reserved to the
Commissioner, and therefore, is not entitled to “any
special significance.” (ECF No. 16:12). The Court
agrees that the issue of disability is one reserved to the
Commissioner. See SSR 96-5P, 1996 WL 374183, at *3
(July 2, 1996). Even so, “opinions from any medical
source on issues reserved to the Commissioner must never
be ignored.” SSR 96-5P, 1996 WL 374183, at *3 (July 2,
1996) (emphasis added). Rather, “the ALJ must evaluate
all evidence in the case record that may have a bearing on
the determination or decision of disability, including
opinions from medical sources about issues reserved to the
Commissioner.” Lackey v. Barnhart, 127
Fed.App’x 455, 457-458 (10th Cir. 2005). Here, the ALJ
completely omitted any discussion of Nurse Brant’s
statement that Plaintiff’s headaches were disabling.
See TR. 905-20. Such inaction constitutes reversible
error. See Victory v. Barnhart, 121 Fed.App’x
819, 825 (10th Cir. 2005) ALJ’s failure to mention
treating source’s opinion on issue reserved to the
Commissioner was “of course, clear legal
Evidence from Dr. Brant
Ms. Anderson argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consider
evidence from Dr. Brant regarding Plaintiff’s headaches
and associated limitations-namely stress, photophobia, and
phonophobia. (ECF No. 13:6-9). The Court agrees.
The ALJ’s Duty to Consider Opinion Evidence
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. § 1527(c). The
weight given each opinion will vary according to the
relationship between the claimant and medical professional.
Hamlin, 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) (SSR
96-2p) (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) 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. § 404.1527.
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); SSR 96-2p, at 5. If the
ALJ rejects an opinion completely, he must give
“specific, legitimate reasons” for ...