United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER
REID NEUREITER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
government determined that Plaintiff Gary Taylor is not
disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act.
28.) Mr. Taylor 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). (Dkt. #13.)
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).
second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequence for
making determinations,  the ALJ found that Mr. Taylor
“has the following severe impairments: obesity and
diabetes mellitus.” (AR 13.) The ALJ then determined
that Mr. Taylor “does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments” in the
regulations. (AR 14.) The ALJ found Mr. Taylor's
cataracts, hearing loss, dyslexia, and, most significantly,
back pain, to be non-severe impairments. (Id.)
Because she concluded that Mr. Taylor did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets the
severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Mr.
Taylor has the following residual functional capacity
. . . [Mr. Taylor] has the residual functional capacity to
perform medium work . . . except that he is able to
frequently balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and
stairs; he can occasionally stoop. He cannot climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. He must avoid extreme cold. He requires
instruction to be presented orally or verbally.
(AR 15.) The ALJ determined that Mr. Taylor was unable to
perform past relevant work. (AR 20-21.) She noted that Mr.
Taylor, who was 60 years old at the time, was an individual
closely approaching retirement age. (AR 21.) The ALJ
concluded, however, that, considering Mr. Taylor's
“age, education, work experience, and [RFC], there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy” that Mr. Taylor could perform. (Id.)
These included hand packager, meat trimmer, and machine
packager. (Id.) Accordingly, Mr. Taylor was deemed
to have not been under a disability from the alleged onset
date of April 28, 2014. (AR 22.)
Taylor asserts three reversible errors: first, that the
ALJ's stated reasons for giving less weight to the
examining physician and greater weight to the non-examining
physician were not legitimate or supported by substantial
evidence; second, that the ALJ's decision was not
supported by substantial evidence due the ALJ's errors in
evaluating the medical evidence; and third, that the
ALJ's reasons for rejecting Mr. Taylor's subjective
allegations were not legitimate. (Dkt. #15 at 5-20.) The
Court will address each in turn.
Weighing of Medical Opinions
Taylor first argues that the ALJ committed a reversible error
when she gave less weight to the opinion of an examining
physician, Victor Nwanguma, M.D., than that of a
non-examining state agency medical consultant, Antonio
Dr. Nwanguma's Examination
Nwanguma examined Mr. Taylor once in September 2014 as part
of his disability application. (AR 256-64.) Mr. Taylor's
chief complaint, which Dr. Nwanguma found to be reliable, was
back pain, which had gotten progressively worse since he had
gotten hurt 10 years earlier. (AR 256.) Mr. Taylor claimed he
had a bulging disc in his back but indicated that he refused
the recommended surgery. (Id.) Instead, Mr. Taylor
treated the back pain with a transcutaneous electrical nerve
stimulation (“TENS”) unit and “a massive
amount of ibuprofen”- up to 60 100mg pills per week.
(Id.) He presented bent over a cane for support and
reported that he used a walker for ambulation. (AR 256, 257.)
Mr. Taylor walked with an antalgic gait and, without his
cane, his balance appeared unstable: he “was able to do
heel-to-toe movement, but there was a significant risk of him
falling to the ground.” (AR 257.)
Taylor needed assistance getting on and off the examination
table and getting out of the seated position. (AR 256, 257.)
He reported that he was unable to lie flat on the examination
table, and therefore could not attempt a supine straight leg
raise test. (AR 259.) He did not perform hip or knee joint
range of motions tests. (AR 258.) A seated straight leg raise
test was negative. (Id.). Mr. Taylor had reduced
lumbar flexion to 30 degrees, lumbar extension was 5 degrees,
and lateral flexion was not performed due to the risk of
falling. (Id.) Dr. Nwanguma noted decreased
sensation in both upper extremities. (Id.) However,
he found that Mr. Taylor had “[g]ood muscle mass and
muscle tone” and “[s]trength 5/5 in both upper
and lower extremities.” (Id.)
Nwanguma diagnosed Mr. Taylor with back pain, obesity, and
peripheral neuropathy with decreased sensation to his
extremities. (Id.) Dr. Nwanguma opined that Mr.
Taylor was limited in his ability to stand, walk, and sit,
but if his back pain was controlled, he would have no
limitations. (AR 260.) Dr. Nwanguma determined that the cane
is medically necessary for balance and support, and that Mr.
Taylor was limited to lifting less than 10 pounds.
(Id.) As to postural activities, Dr. Nwanguma opined
that Mr. Taylor would have “difficulty with balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling all the time due to
decreased flexion of the lumbar spine and back pain.”
Dr. Medina's ...