United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
F. JAYNE, JUDGE
Lesley Ann O. seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of
the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423. In accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to
proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. For reasons
explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits. 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 ALJ's Decision
then a 40-year-old female, applied for Title II benefits on
December 18, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of
September 1, 2015. R. 159-160. Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through March 30, 2016. R. 14.
Plaintiff claimed she was unable to work due to ulcerative
colitis, anxiety, right eye blindness, kidney problems, and
joint pain. R. 187. Plaintiff's claim for benefits was
denied initially on March 8, 2016, and on reconsideration on
April 12, 2016. R. 87-91; 93-96. Plaintiff then requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), and the ALJ held the hearing on October
12, 2017. The ALJ then issued a decision on December 22,
2017, denying benefits and finding Plaintiff not disabled.
The Appeals Council denied review, and Plaintiff appealed.
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity “during the period from her alleged onset date
of September 1, 2015 through her date last insured of March
30, 2016.” R. 14. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: inflammatory arthritis,
osteoarthritis of the right acromioclavicular (AC) joint with
a type II acromion right shoulder and partial thickness
tearing of the upper tendinous fibers, and obesity. 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. Prior to making a step
four finding and after “careful consideration of the
entire record, ” the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
lift or carry, push or pull ten pounds occasionally and less
than ten pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] could sit for six
hours out of an eight-hour day, and stand or walk a combined
total of two hours out of an eight-hour day. [Plaintiff]
could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but should avoid
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She should have
avoided all overhead reaching, but could frequently handle
and finger with the bilateral upper extremities.
R. 17. At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to
perform any of her past relevant work because it exceeded her
RFC. R. 24. Plaintiff was 40 years old on her alleged onset
date, which is defined as a younger individual. Based on
testimony from the vocational expert, however, the ALJ found
at step five that Plaintiff was capable of making a
successful adjustment to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled.
Issues and Analysis
raises three issues on appeal: (1) the ALJ failed to provide
legitimate reasons for rejecting physical restrictions in the
Medical Source Opinion of Erin Morgan, M.D.; (2) the ALJ
improperly discounted Plaintiff's subjective complaints
regarding pain in her hands and the need for frequent
restroom breaks; and (3) the ALJ's RFC failed to include
Plaintiff's alleged impairment regarding the need for
restroom breaks. The second and third arguments substantially
overlap and are addressed together below.
The ALJ Reasonably Considered and Evaluated Dr. Morgan's
Medical Source Opinion
Dr. Morgan's Opinion/ALJ's Decision
December 9, 2015, Dr. Morgan completed a Medical Source
Opinion of Residual Functional Capacity as of September 30,
2015, opining that Plaintiff retained the ability to sit,
stand, and/or walk a total of two to three hours of an
eight-hour workday; that she could frequently lift and/or
carry less than ten pounds; that she could use her arms
bilaterally less than two hours per eight-hour work day for
reaching, pushing, and pulling; and that she could use her
hands bilaterally less than two hours per eight-hour work day
for grasping, handling, fingering, or feeling. R. 254. Dr.
Morgan also indicated that Plaintiff “needs to rest as
indicated above” due to pain and/or fatigue.
Id. As the medical findings supporting these