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Siegle v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 24, 2014

CHRISTINA SIEGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ'S DECISION

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Christina Elaine Siegle's appeal of the Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability benefits. Exercising jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), this Court affirms the judgment of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

I. BACKGROUND

Although Plaintiff alleged before the ALJ that she had more than a half-dozen disabling impairments, her appeal before this Court principally implicates her allegations of debilitating foot and back pain. The foot pain derives from a small fiber neuropathy- a condition that both parties agree causes Plaintiff at least some pain and loss of sensation in her feet. See, e.g., AR 33-34. Plaintiff provides more generalized allegations about the back pain, suggesting, inter alia, that she suffers from spasms, soreness, chronic pain, acute pain, and pain sometimes focused in the right lower back. See, e.g., AR 266-67, 371, 430-32, 457, 502-03. Finally, Plaintiff indisputably suffers from advanced arthritis in her left shoulder, which limits her ability to lift her left arm above her head or elevate it repeatedly. See, e.g., AR 33.

In his written decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's foot, back, and shoulder pain impairments were not disabling. In particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments-including the shoulder impairment and fiber neuropathy in her feet-but that her assertions as to the disabling limitations of such impairments were not fully credible. The ALJ further concluded that Ms. Knight's opinions about Plaintiff's limitations in functioning were not well-supported or consistent with the record as a whole. See AR 9-25.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review of the ALJ's determination as to Plaintiff's disabilities is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).

Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1084. In reviewing the record and the arguments of counsel, the Court does not reexamine the issues de novo, Sisco v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir. 1993), nor does it re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. 2006). Thus, even when some evidence may have supported contrary findings, the Court "may not displace the agency's choice between two fairly conflicting views, " even if the Court may have "made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo." Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff advances two arguments for why the ALJ erred in determining that she was not disabled. As is explained below, the Court finds neither persuasive.

A. MS. KNIGHT'S TESTIMONY

First, Plaintiff finds fault with the manner in which the ALJ discounted the written testimony of Ruth Knight, a physician's assistant, who suggested that Plaintiff's "back and leg pain" were in fact disabling. AR 367; see also AR 499-503 (report from Ms. Knight concluding that Plaintiff was disabled). Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ dismissed Ms. Knight's opinion in a conclusory manner and in contravention of Social Security Ruling (SSR) 06-03P, 2006 WL 2329939 (Aug. 9, 2006).

This argument fails for a number of reasons. As an initial matter, contrary to Plaintiff's characterization, the ALJ did not discount Ms. Knight's opinion in a conclusory manner. Rather, the ALJ did not credit Ms. Knight's position because, among other things, Plaintiff's "own reported activities of daily living require more than this P.A. [referring to Ms. Knight] said she could do" and clinical examinations of Plaintiff "have not noted significant abnormalities or functional limitations." AR 22.

This reasoning is not conclusory. Further, it is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Compare AR 502 (report from Ms. Knight suggesting that Plaintiff can never bend, squat, or climb), with AR 52-53 (testimony from Plaintiff that she cleaned her toilet); AR 462-65 (2011 report noting Plaintiff walked with a normal gait, had no difficulty climbing onto an examination table, and admitted that nerve medication was helping with her neuropathy); AR 459 (2011 report noting that Plaintiff reported having "intermittent" lower back pain and "no h[istory] of chronic back pain"); see also AR 34-36 (hearing testimony from Dr. Gerald Winkler that, based on his review of Plaintiff's medical record, although Plaintiff's ailments were not ...


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