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Ann O. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 8, 2020

LESLEY ANN O., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          JODI F. JAYNE, JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Standard of Review

         In 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).

         II. Procedural History and ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, 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.

         The ALJ 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.

         III. Issues and Analysis

         Plaintiff 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.

         A. The ALJ Reasonably Considered and Evaluated Dr. Morgan's Medical Source Opinion

         1. Dr. Morgan's Opinion/ALJ's Decision

         On 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 ...

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