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Salazar v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 14, 2016

LEONARD TOBY SALAZAR, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

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).

Discussion

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, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral shoulders, obesity, and uncontrolled hypertension.” (AR 24.) 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 a sit-stand option at approximately 45-minute intervals. He would not be off task while shifting and/or alternating positions. The claimant can never operate foot controls bilaterally, never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally crouch. He can frequently reach above shoulder level bilaterally. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, unprotected heights, and hazardous or moving machinery.

(AR 25.) At the fourth and fifth steps of analysis, the ALJ found both that “the claimant retains the capacity to perform ‘past relevant work’” and in the alternative that “there are other jobs existing in the national economy that he is also able to perform, ” thus determining “that Plaintiff is not disabled.” (AR 30.)

Plaintiff asserts two errors: first, that the ALJ improperly weighed medical opinions; second, that the ALJ’s credibility determination was 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.

Even if it is not given controlling weight, a treating opinion will nonetheless be weighed along with all other opinions. An RFC assessment must resolve each limitation proffered by a medical opinion-either adopting it, reconciling it with conflicting evidence, or explicitly declining to adopt it for specific reasons. Haga v. Astrue, 482 F.3d 1205, 1208 (10th Cir. 2007) (“An ALJ is not entitled to pick and choose through an uncontradicted medical opinion, taking only the parts that are favorable to a finding of nondisability.”); see also Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996) (“The record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, but an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence. Rather, in addition to discussing the evidence supporting his decision, the ALJ also must discuss the uncontroverted evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well as significantly probative evidence he rejects.” (internal citation omitted)).

Here, the ALJ summarized the medical evidence, including medical opinions, then concluded with this paragraph:

After reviewing the record as a whole, including the claimant’s hearing testimony, I find there is no support for restricting the claimant beyond a light exertional level. I accord partial weight to Dr. Oladiran’s opinion. Dr. Oladiran’s physical examinations and other records support restricting the claimant’s reaching and lifting/carrying, but they do not support limiting the claimant’s standing and walking beyond that required for a light ...

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