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Sabbagh v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 23, 2017

NAMIR J. SABBAGH, Plaintiff,
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: (1) degenerative changes of the lumbar spine with sciatica; (2) Vertigo with dizzy spells; and (3) Bilateral foot pain secondary to plantar fasciitis.” (AR 35.) 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 . . . except the claimant can engage in occasional climbing, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and crawling. [Plaintiff] is unable to engage in semiskilled or skilled work activity due to limitations in concentration caused by chronic pain.

(AR 25.) At the fourth and fifth steps of analysis, the ALJ found that “the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, ” but that he “is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy” such that he is not disabled. (AR 41-42.)

         Plaintiff asserts four errors: first, that the ALJ did not apply correct legal standard in evaluating the medical opinion evidence; second, that the ALJ made improper credibility findings; third, that the ALJ failed to consider all of Plaintiff's impairments in combination when evaluating his RFC; and fourth, that the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff can perform alternative work is not supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Weighing Medical Opinions

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to apply correct legal standard when evaluating the medical opinion evidence because: (1) he failed to apply the treating physician rule; (2) he failed to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence; and (3) because he failed to give the treating physician's opinion controlling weight.

         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. Good cause for rejecting a treating source may be found when a treating source opinion is brief, conclusory, or unsupported by the medical evidence. Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 513 (10th Cir.1987).

         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 ...

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