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Andrew v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 28, 2019

ANNE MARTHA ANDREW, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          N. REID NEUREITER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The government determined that Plaintiff Anne Martha Andrew was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act for the period from October 20, 2013 through January 4, 2018, the date of the decision. (AR[2] 28.) Ms. Andrew 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, [3] the ALJ found that Ms. Andrew “has the following severe impairments: anxiety disorder and a substance addiction disorder.” (AR 19.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Andrew had the following non-severe mental impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, and “reportedly dyslexia.” (Id.) The ALJ considered any limitations associated with these impairments with respect to her anxiety disorder. (Id.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Andrew had the following non-severe physical impairments: chronic pain, particularly in the sacroiliac area, tendonitis hyperflexibility, and fibromyalgia. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ found that Ms. Andrew's weight loss related to her mental health conditions was a non-medically determinable impairment. (AR 20.)

         The ALJ then determined at step three that Ms. Andrew “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 20-22) Because he concluded that Ms. Andrew did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Ms. Andrew has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . the claimant [Ms. Andrew] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), specifically the claimant can lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, can stand or walk for six hours total, and can sit for six hours total in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant can perform work that requires up to three months' time to learn techniques and acquire information for an average job performance. The claimant can frequently have contact with supervisors and coworkers. The claimant can occasionally have contact with the general public. The claimant can have no exposure to pulmonary irritants, industrial chemicals such as cleaners and glues. The claimant can have no exposure to loud noises, to unprotected heights, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant would be expected to miss an average of one day of work per month to manage medical issues.

(AR 22.)

         The ALJ concluded that Ms. Andrew had no past relevant work. (AR 27.) At step five, the ALJ found that, considering Ms. Andrew's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, including Office Helper and Garment Sorter. (AR 27-28.) Accordingly, Ms. Andrew was deemed not to have been under a disability from the alleged onset date of October 20, 2013, through January 4, 2018, the date of the decision. (AR 29.)

         Analysis

         Ms. Andrew, proceeding pro se, [4] argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because he improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence and discounted her subjective complaints. The Court disagrees.

         Medical Opinion Evidence

         An ALJ must “give consideration to all the medical opinions in the record” and “discuss the weight he assigns to them.” Mays v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 569, 578 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). “An ALJ must evaluate every medical opinion in the record, although the weight given each opinion will vary according to the relationship between the disability claimant and the medical professional.” Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1215 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 401.1527(d)). The applicable regulations governing the consideration of medical opinions distinguish among “treating” physicians, “examining” physicians, and “nonexamining” (or “consulting”) physicians. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). Generally, “the opinions of physicians who have treated a patient over a period of time or who are consulted for purposes of treatment are given greater weight than are reports of physicians employed and paid by the government for the purpose of defending against a disability claim.” Sorenson v. Bowen, 888 F.2d 706, 711 (10th Cir. 1989). See also Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 762 (10th Cir. 2003) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2)) (“The treating physician's opinion is given particular weight because of his or her ‘unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of individual examinations, such as consultative examinations or brief hospitalizations.'”).

         The evaluation of a treating source's opinion is a two-step process. Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003). “The initial determination the ALJ must make with respect to a treating physician's medical opinion is whether it is conclusive, i.e., is to be accorded ‘controlling weight,' on the matter to which it relates.” Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1330 (10th Cir. 2011). “Such an opinion must be given controlling weight if it is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record.” Id. But good cause may exist for rejecting an opinion that is brief, conclusory, or unsupported by the medical evidence. Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 513 (10th Cir. 1987). Second,

Even if a treating opinion is not given controlling weight, it is still entitled to deference; at the second step in the analysis, the ALJ must make clear how much weight the opinion is being given (including whether it is being rejected outright) and give good reasons, tied to the factors specified in ...

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