United States District Court, D. Colorado
MICHELLE E. MATA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Brooke Jackson United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner's
decision denying claimant Michelle Mata's application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381- 83c. Jurisdiction is proper under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
appeal is based upon the administrative record and the
parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the
Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and
determines whether it contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). A
decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is
“overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.”
Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988).
Substantial evidence requires “more than a scintilla,
but less than a preponderance.” Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence
is not substantial if it “constitutes mere
conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d
1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). In addition, reversal may be
appropriate if the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal
standard or fails to demonstrate that the correct legal
standards have been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at
Mata was born on October 4, 1981. See R. 155. She
has a high school education and two years of college for
accounting. R. 18, 179. In the past, she has worked as a bank
teller, a bartender, and as a telephone solicitor, although
she has not held substantial gainful employment since at
least her application date of December 27, 2012. R. 13, 179.
Plaintiff's Physical Conditions.
relevant medical history related to her alleged physical
disabilities begins in May of 2012. At that time, Nurse
Practitioner Nancy Welter saw Ms. Mata for a few follow-up
treatments for an ovarian cyst (plaintiff had polycystic
ovarian disease in 2005, see R. 66) and lower right quadrant
pain that radiated to her back, see R. 226-32. During these
visits, Nurse Welter noted that plaintiff appeared to have
some pelvic pain. Id. She subsequently prescribed
plaintiff Percocet. Id.
the next few months plaintiff visited the emergency room
multiple times complaining of similar pains in her abdomen,
but also of pain in various different parts of her body.
See R. 256-331. Her physical examinations and tests
performed on her during this time, however, came back mostly
normal. See Id. Plaintiff nevertheless was
continually prescribed pain medication during each visit.
Id. Her abdominal pain was also treated successfully
with trigger point injections throughout 2013 and into 2014.
R. 15, 316-20, 353-54, 358-61, 365-66, 370-72, 405-06.
also has a history of pain in her shoulders. Her treatment
for this condition apparently began with a visit to Parkview
Orthopedics in December of 2012. R. 332. During this visit,
Physician Assistant Lucas Derting noted that although
plaintiff complained of bilateral shoulder pain and displayed
some reduced range of motion in her right shoulder, she
generally had no weakness in her extremities, full range of
motion in her left shoulder, and that imaging was
“normal with no fracture or acute process joint
space.” R. 332. Plaintiff was assessed to have
impingement and frozen shoulder syndromes. R. 333. Mr.
Derting recommended that plaintiff go to physical therapy.
Id. However, the record reveals plaintiff did not do
so consistently, if much at all. See, e.g., R. 335.
appears to have had four follow-up visits for her shoulder
pain at Parkview Orthopedics-one in March of 2013, one in
July of 2013, one in November of 2013, and one in March of
2014. R. 335-36 (March 19, 2013 visit), 394-95 (March 6, 2014
visit), 396-97 (November 7, 2013 visit), 398-99 (July 1, 2013
visit). During these follow-ups, plaintiff generally showed
some “giveaway weakness” in her shoulders, but no
atrophy or neurological deficits, and only some reduced range
of motion with tenderness or pain at only the extremes of
this range. See Id. She received shoulder injections
during each visit. Id. An MRI of plaintiff's
shoulders ordered during her November 2013 visit and
completed later that same month revealed tendinosis without
evidence of a rotator cuff tear, as well as mild bursitis. R.
on these conditions, there are two assessments of
plaintiff's physical disabilities in the record. First,
on April 16, 2013 single decision-maker (“SDM”)
Janet Weldon assessed plaintiff's
condition. Reviewing the record, Ms. Weldon found
that Ms. Mata could occasionally lift up to 20 pounds;
frequently lift 10 pounds; sit, stand, or walk for a total of
six hours in an eight-hour workday; occasionally climb
ladders, ropes and scaffolds; and occasionally reach
overhead. R. 85.
on May 12, 2014 plaintiff's treating nurse, Nurse
Practitioner Dawn Evert, assessed Plaintiff's physical
work-related limitations. R. 401-04. Nurse Evert noted that
due to plaintiff's complaints of chronic pelvic and
abdominal pain, as well as her constant urinary incontinence
(a condition absent elsewhere in the record aside from
plaintiff's testimony during her hearing, see R. 18, 44),
plaintiff could lift and carry only a maximum of 5-10 pounds
occasionally or frequently, stand or walk for two hours total
in an eight-hour workday and for 30 minutes at any one time
without interruption, and that she could never climb, crouch,
kneel, or crawl, and only occasionally balance or stoop. R.
402. Nurse Evert also opined that plaintiff could not feel or
push, but could reach, handle, see, hear, and speak. R. 403.
Plaintiff's Mental Conditions.
Mata does not appear to have ever sought consistent treatment
for mental health conditions. Nevertheless, there are three
evaluations of her mental health or her mental work-related
limitations in the record.
in March of 2013 Donald Degroot, Ph.D. conducted a
psychological consultative examination of plaintiff at the
request of the State agency after plaintiff filed her
application. R. 344-50. During that one-time examination,
plaintiff reported that up until 2011 she had been consuming
hard liquor on a daily basis (a bottle a day) and that she
had recently quit using cocaine. R. 346. She reported herself
having depression and that she has attempted suicide twice in
her life, but that she had never received inpatient
psychiatric treatment. R. 344-50. After various
questions and tests, Dr. Degroot noted that many of
plaintiff's responses were incorrect or vague and that
she generally had difficulty with her concentration and
memory. R. 348-49.
on his examination of plaintiff and the severity of the
complaints she made to him, Dr. Degroot assessed Ms. Mata as
having a moderate to marked impairment in her ability to
understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. R.
350. He noted her ability to carry out “simple
work-related decisions appears markedly impaired.”
Id. “Her ability to understand, remember and
carry out complex instructions [also] appear[ed] markedly to
extremely impaired.” Id. Finally, Dr. Degroot
opined that plaintiff's ability to interact with
supervisors, co-workers, and the public appeared moderately
to markedly impaired, as was her ability to respond to usual
work situations and changes in a routine work setting.
second evaluation was done by State agency psychological
consultant James Wanstrath, Ph.D. after he reviewed the
then-current record (including Dr. Degroot's evaluation).
R. 62-65, 84. Dr. Wanstrath did not conduct an examination of
plaintiff herself. Nevertheless, in general Dr. Wanstrath
agreed with many of Dr. Degroot's opinions about
plaintiff's limitations. See R. 84. He
nevertheless noted his disagreement with two of Dr.
Degroot's assessments. First, he took issue with Dr.
Degroot's opinion regarding plaintiff's diminished
decision-making ability, interpersonal interaction and
response, and ability to carry out “simple
instructions.” R. 84. He explained that the record
revealed that plaintiff was not actively seeking mental
health treatment and that she did not report any limitations
in her ability to carry out the basic activities of daily
life. Id. Thus, in Dr. Wanstrath's opinion,
plaintiff could follow simple instructions, make simple
work-related decisions, and sustain ordinary routines. R. 87.
Second, he noted that while plaintiff might not be able to
work closely with supervisors, co-workers, or the
general public, the record revealed that she could be
supervised and relate to co-workers if this contact was
infrequent or not prolonged. R. 86.
last assessment was completed by Nurse Evert at the same time
she completed her assessment of plaintiff's physical
work-related limitations. R. 416-18. In her mental
work-related limitations assessment, Nurse Evert indicated,
without referencing any evidence in particular aside from
plaintiff's use of medication and her complaints of pain,
that plaintiff had poor to no ability to follow work rules,
deal with work stress, function independently, maintain
attention or concentration, or use judgment. R. 416. She also
opined that Ms. Mata had no ability in various other
performance areas, similarly referencing the effects
plaintiff's medication had on her physically and
emotionally. R. 417. Nurse Evert further supported her
assessments by noting plaintiff's subjective complaints
of chronic pain and that her medications made her
“sleepy.” R. 416-18. She also listed four
medications in the section asking for the medications
plaintiff takes “for . . . her mental
impairment(s)[, ]” although these appear to be
medications prescribed to plaintiff for her physical
conditions. R. 418 (emphasis added).