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Ricketts v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 16, 2020

KEITH RICKETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHONT. ERWIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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 denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner has answered and filed a transcript of 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).

         The 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially and on reconsideration, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. Following an administrative hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision on January 13, 2017. (TR. 18-33). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, [1] and Mr. Ricketts filed an appeal in federal court. (TR. 762-765). The parties consented to jurisdiction with this Court, which reversed and remanded the case. (TR. 766-777). The remand was based on the ALJ's failure to properly evaluate the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. James Odor, who treated Plaintiff for back pain between February 2008 and March 2014. (TR. 772-777).

         Of particular import was Dr. Odor's May 13, 2013 opinion which stated that Plaintiff had limitations involving “no repetitive … twisting.” (TR. 529-30). Although at that time, Dr. Odor stated that Plaintiff had achieved “maximum medical improvement, ” on January 13, 2014, Dr. Odor stated that he would send a final report regarding Plaintiff's “permanent restrictions” following a “functional capacities evaluation” (FCE). (TR. 521). The FCE was performed on February 20, 2014 and stated that Mr. Ricketts could “occasionally” climb, but that Plaintiff refused to be tested on abilities involving axial rotation, crouching and stooping. (TR. 518). In the report and final letter dated March 4, 2014, Dr. Odor stated:

Mr. Ricketts' positional/agility tests indicate the position of kneeling, crouching/squatting, stooping, axial rotation and overhead reaching were unable to be evaluated today secondary to Mr. Ricketts voluntarily ending his FCE…. This report indicated the presence of low physical effort [and] would indicate the result of this evaluation for [Plaintiff] IS NOT a reliable representation of his current safe functional abilities.

(TR. 518-519) (emphasis in original).

         In the first unfavorable decision, the ALJ summarized a good deal of Dr. Odor's treatment notes and specifically cited Dr. Odor's May 13, 2013 opinion involving “permanent restrictions including no repetitive … twisting.” (TR. 26). However: (1) the ALJ did not state whether she believed the opinion or had accorded it any weight, (2) the ALJ did not comment on Dr. Odor's FCE report, and (3) the RFC did not discuss twisting. (TR. 24-26). As a result, the Court remanded based on the ALJ's failure to properly evaluate Dr. Odor's opinion regarding Plaintiff's ability to twist. In doing so, the Court noted that “the record was ambiguous on the issue of twisting” in light of: (1) Dr. Odor's May 13, 2013 opinion which allowed for no repetitive twisting, (2) an opinion from a treating physician's assistant on June 7, 2016, that Plaintiff had been suffering severe back pain which was “ach[ing], deep, discomforting, stabbing, and throbbing” when he did any “twisting movement, ” and (3) Dr. Odor's FCE which post-dated the May 13, 2013 opinion, but was inconclusive on the issue of twisting. (TR. 775-776).

         Ultimately, the Court stated:

In sum, the ALJ erred in failing to explain the weight [s]he provided to any of Dr. Odor's opinions. On remand, the ALJ should re-evaluate Dr. Odor's opinion, and if necessary, seek a consultative examination for clarification of any issues regarding Plaintiff's work-related limitations. The ALJ shall explain h[er] reasons for the weight accorded to Dr. Odor's opinions so that any subsequent reviewer is able to ascertain the ALJ's reasoning.

(TR. 776-777).

         Following a second administrative hearing, the same ALJ issued another unfavorable decision, and Plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court, seeking a review of that decision. See TR. 694-710; ECF No. 1.

         II. THE SECOND ...


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