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Williams v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 13, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL J. WATANABE United States Magistrate Judge

The government determined that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff has asked this Court to review that decision. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and both parties have agreed to have this case decided by a U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

Standard of Review

In Social Security appeals, the Court reviews the decision of the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074, 1075 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Raymond v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1271-72 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court “should, indeed must, exercise common sense” and “cannot insist on technical perfection.” Keyes- Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court cannot reweigh the evidence or its credibility. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).


At the second step of the Commissioner’s five-step sequence for making determinations, [1] the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, [and] osteoarthritis affecting the shoulders and hips.” (AR 22.) Together with Plaintiff’s non-severe limitations, the ALJ then determined that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”), as is relevant here:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work . . . with the following limitations: the claimant cannot be required to lift more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she cannot be required to stoop, balance, crouch, or climb stairs more than occasionally; she cannot be required to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she cannot be required to sit more than 6 hours in an 8-hour day; she cannot be required to sit for more than 45 minutes at one time without the opportunity to stand; she cannot be required to stand or walk for more than 4 hours out of an 8-hour workday; she cannot he required to work above shoulder level with the upper extremities; she cannot be required to push or pull with the feet; she cannot he required to work at unguarded heights or near unguarded hazardous mechanical equipment; she cannot be required to operate a motorized vehicle.

(AR 24.) At the fourth step of analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “is capable of performing past relevant work as a customer service representative” and therefore that Plaintiff is not disabled. (AR 27.)

Plaintiff asserts three reversible errors: first, that the ALJ handled opinion evidence improperly; second, that the ALJ’s credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence; and third, that the ALJ’s findings as to past relevant work were not supported by substantial evidence.

I. Weighing Medical Opinions

The Commissioner is required to evaluate all evidence meeting the definition of a “medical opinion” according to specific rules. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. The weight to be given to an opinion must be based on “examining relationship, ” “treatment relationship, ” “supportability, ” “consistency, ” “specialization, ” and “any [other] factors . . . which tend to support or contradict the opinion.” § 404.1527(c)(1)-(6). Medical opinions that come from a “treating source” receive preferred treatment, “since these sources are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [] impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of individual examinations.” § 404.1527(c)(2). Thus, if a treating source provides a medical opinion, the opinion will be given controlling weight if it (1) “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, ” and (2) “is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] record.” Id. If it is not given controlling weight, it will nonetheless be weighed along with all other opinions.

There are two medical opinions in the record. Plaintiff argues that both were mishandled.

A. Dr. Hodge

The first medical opinion is from Dr. Hodge, a consultative examiner. The ALJ assigned it “little weight, ” finding that “there is no indication in the record that Dr. Hodge reviewed treatment records as part of his examination, and those treatment records could have alerted Dr. Hodge to the claimant’s history of presenting as more limited during an examination than when observed outside of the examination room.” (AR 26.) Although an ALJ cannot discount an opinion on the sole basis that the opinion comes from a medical source without a treatment relationship, Chapo v. Astrue, 682 F.3d 1285, 1291 (10th Cir. 2012), the treatment relationship and the degree to which an opinion is consistent with other evidence are proper considerations, see § 404.1527(c)(2), (4). The ALJ’s stated reason ...

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