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Gonzalez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 16, 2019

GERALDINE GONZALES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          N. Reid Neureiter United States Magistrate Judge

          The government determined that Plaintiff Geraldine Gonzales was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act for the period from April 15, 2015 through December 8, 2017, the date of the decision. (AR[1] 16.) Ms. Gonzales 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.)

         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).

         Background

         At the second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequence for making determinations, [2] the ALJ found that Ms. Gonzales “has the following severe impairments: generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), degenerative disc disease of lumbar and cervical spine, venous insufficiency, obesity, and diabetes mellitus.” (AR 18.) The ALJ then determined at step three that Ms. Gonzales “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 18-22) Because he concluded that Ms. Gonzales did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Ms. Gonzales has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . [Ms. Gonzales] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant must never be required to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can constantly balance, but only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is further limited in that she must avoid frequent use of moving and/or dangerous machinery, and frequent exposure to unprotected heights. She must avoid frequent exposure to irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases, and poorly ventilated areas. She must also avoid all driving of motor vehicles at work. The claimant is further limited to work that consists of only simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She is able to maintain sufficient attention and concentration for extended periods of two-hour segments during a normal workday with normal breaks, but only in work that consists of no more than simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She is further limited to work that requires no more than frequent interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors, and to work that requires no more than occasional supervision, which is defined as requiring a supervisor's critical checking of her work.

(AR 22.)

         The ALJ concluded that Ms. Gonzales was unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 29.) However, at step five, the ALJ found that, considering Ms. Gonzales's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, including Routine Clerk, Office Helper, and Mail Sorter. (AR 32.) Accordingly, Ms. Gonzales was deemed not to have been under a disability from the alleged onset date of April 22, 2015, through December 8, 2017, the date of the decision. (AR 33.)

         Analysis

         Ms. Gonzales argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because he did not assign any specific weight to the medical opinions of two examining psychologists, Dr. Carlos Rodriguez and Dr. David Benson. In contrast, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of non-examining psychologist Dr. Ronald Houston.

         Dr. Rodriguez's Opinion

         Dr. Rodriguez conducted a psycho-diagnostic interview on May 17, 2017. (AR 770-77.) His review of Ms. Gonzales' mental health records from January 2015 through January 2017 indicated that she “was diagnosed with and treated for a Major Depressive Disorder.” (AR 770.) Dr. Rodriguez made the following observations during the examination:

Geraldine presents with flat affect and a depressed demeanor. She was cooperative during this evaluation and wore sunglasses throughout the evaluation. She wears prescription glasses for reading. She does not display any expressive or receptive deficits. Gerald[i]ne presents appropriately dressed and adequately groomed for this evaluation. Her speech is goal directed and coherent. Her thought processes and her speech do not reflect the presence of rapid thinking, delusions, hallucinations, confused thinking, flight of ideas, or other psychotic manifestations. On Mental Status Examination, Gerald[i]ne is oriented to person, place, and time. Abstraction ability is intact given her appropriate responses to similarities type questions. For example, when asked how a dog and a lion are alike, she responded, “They're animals.” Her responses to comprehension type questions indicate deficits in basic social judgement. For example, when asked what she would do if ...

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