Becerra v. Astrue
ORDER: The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. by Judge R. Brooke Jackson on 4/24/14. (jdyne, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge R. Brooke Jackson
Civil Action No. 13-cv-00570-RBJ
MARGO L. BECERRA,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN 1, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
This matter is before the Court on review of the Commissioner’s decision denying
plaintiff Margo Becerra’s application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the
Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This appeal is based upon the administrative record and briefs submitted by the parties.
In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner, the role of the district court is to examine the
record and determine whether it “contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner’s]
decision and whether the [Commissioner] applied the correct legal standards.” Rickets v. Apfel,
16 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1287 (D. Colo. 1998). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on February 14, 2013, and thus
her name is substituted for that of Michael J. Astrue as the defendant in this suit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d)(1).
By virtue of the last sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), no further action needs to be taken to continue this
1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). Evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes
mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992).
The Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the
agency.” Harper v. Colvin, 528 F. App’x 887, 890 (10th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). Thus,
although some evidence could support contrary findings, the Court “may not displace the
agency’s choice between two fairly conflicting views,” even if the Court might “have made a
different choice had the matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1258
(10th Cir. 2007). However, the Court must “meticulously examine the record as a whole,
including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if
the substantiality test has been met.” Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007)
Upon review, the district court “shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 45
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Ms. Becerra first applied for disability insurance benefits on February 5, 2011. She
claimed inability to take part in substantially gainful activity since her alleged onset date of July
9, 2003 due to a number of conditions: closed head injury leading to headaches, migraines,
memory loss, and other cognitive problems; back injury; neck injury; depression; and arm pain.
Ms. Becerra’s date last insured is September 30, 2014. The Commissioner denied Ms. Becerra’s
application on August 1, 2011. Ms. Becerra then requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ), and the ALJ conducted a hearing on June 6, 2012. During the hearing, Ms.
Becerra, through her counsel, amended the alleged onset date to June 12, 2009. On June 23,
2012, ALJ Kathryn D. Burgchardt issued an opinion denying benefits. The Appeals Council
denied Ms. Becerra’s request for review on February 1, 2013. Thereafter, Ms. Becerra filed a
timely appeal with this Court.
Ms. Becerra was involved in a motor vehicle crash in 2003 in which she sustained a
closed head injury and a lower back injury. Though she recovered enough to continue working
through October 2009, Ms. Becerra currently suffers from chronic headaches and migraines,
lumbar spine degenerative disc disease causing chronic lower back pain, chronic neck pain, and
symptoms of numbness and tingling in her upper extremities. Ms. Becerra has also been
diagnosed with cognitive disorder not otherwise specified (likely stemming from the closed head
injury), major depressive disorder in partial remission, and posttraumatic stress disorder in partial
remission. R. 1205–06. Ms. Becerra has been prescribed medications for her physical pain and
for her depression.
On June 10, 2009, Ms. Becerra went to an army hospital with complaints of lower back
pain. R. 491. She reported that she had sustained a lower back injury and a closed head injury
with post-concussive syndrome six years earlier in a motor vehicle accident. R. 493. She had
been seeing a chiropractor for the previous six years, and the chiropractor had asked her to have
an MRI done of her lumbar spine without contrast. Id. Further, he asked that she be referred for
physical therapy for neck and back stabilization. Id. The examination results were normal with
her lumbar spine showing good strength and a good range of motion, and negative straight leg
raising tests. Id. Ms. Becerra reported that she was not having any radicular symptoms at the
time, but that she occasionally had them down her right leg. Id. The doctor released Ms.
Becerra without limitations. Id.
The MRI revealed a mild progression of degenerative disk disease in the lower lumbar
spine with mild disk height loss at L3-4 and L4-5 since Ms. Becerra’s previous examination and
stable, mild disk narrowing at L5-S1. R. 488. The MRI also showed mild broad-based posterior
disk bulge at L3-4 through L5-S1 with no significant narrowing of the central canal, lateral
recesses, or neural foramina and no evidence of nerve root impingement. Id. Finally, it showed
mild facet disease at the L4-5 level and mild endplate changes at L5-S1. Id. Otherwise, it was
an “unremarkable MRI of the lumbar spine.” Id.
On August 18, 2009, Ms. Becerra reported to her physical therapist that her current pain
was 0/10, with her pain at no more than 4/10 that past week. R. 657. She said that she had just
returned from vacation in Hawaii, and that she had been able to participate in activities without
On February 3, 2010, Ms. Becerra went to a clinic complaining of lower back pain. R.
768. She told the doctor that she had been skiing that past weekend and admitted to “overdoing
it” and straining her lumbar spine. Id. The doctor found that there was palpable tenderness in
the lumbar area, slight bilateral spasms, and that Ms. Becerra’s gait and posture were moderately
antalgic. R. 769. Ms. Becerra was instructed to take prescribed medication, and a referral was
made to a physical therapy group for evaluation and treatment. Id. On February 10, 2010, Ms.
Becerra went to physical therapy and reported that she had been suffering from lower back pain
radiating into the buttocks since she went skiing two weeks earlier. R. 579.
On October 19, 2010, Ms. Becerra reported to her physical therapist that she had a severe
limitation in lifting, bending, and performing household chores. R. 573. She also reported that
she could sit for less than one hour at a time. Id. Her physical therapist found that Ms. Becerra
had the following ranges of motion: Flexion: 75% hands down; Extension: 25% with pain;
Sidebending Right: 100% with pain; Sidebending Left: 100% with pain; Rotation Right: 100%
with pain; Rotation Left: 100% with pain. R. 573–74. Ms. Becerra had positive results in both
her legs for her straight leg test, slump test (lumbar), and piriformis. R. 574. She had negative
results in both legs for her 90-90 hamstring tests. Id. The physical therapist found that Ms.
Becerra suffered from a decrease in functional status but that her subjective and objective deficits
could be addressed by physical therapy. R. 574.
On March 31, 2011, Ms. Becerra rolled her left ankle. See R. 1407. The next day she
went to see a doctor, who found that Ms. Becerra had suffered a sprain; there was no fracture of
dislocation. R. 1406. During a May 25 follow up appointment, the doctor found that the ankle
showed no abnormalities, and that the joint was stable, but that Ms. Becerra reported tenderness
to palpation in the area of the anterior talo-tibial joint. R. 1400. The doctor added that the ankle
joint pain was “[w]ithout evident pathology and atypical in nature” and prescribed antiinflammatory medication. R. 1401. In June, an MRI was ordered after Ms. Becerra reported
persisting pain, in particular shooting/throbbing sensations through the lateral and medial aspects
of the ankle. R. 1394, 1396.
On October 24, 2011, Ms. Becerra met with Kevin S. Borchard, M.D. for an evaluation
of her ankle, which was still causing her pain. R. 1358. She reported “little improvement” with
physical therapy. Id. During his examination, Dr. Borchard found that there was no significant
soft tissue edema or ecchymosis. R. 1359. He observed that the range of motion at the ankle
was 5 degrees of dorsiflexion and 30 degrees of plantar flexion. Id. Ms. Becerra reported mild
tenderness along the posterior tibialis tendon distal to the medial malleolus, and tenderness over
the arch which courses along the peroneus longus tendon. Id. Dr. Borchard concluded that the
left foot and ankle suffered from posterior tibialis tendinitis and peroneal tendinitis, and
discussed treatment options, including the use of a Cam Walker. R. 1359–60. On December 1,
2011, Ms. Becerra reported continued pain and no relief from the use of the Cam Walker. R.
On December 21, 2011, Ms. Becerra saw another doctor, Alan Paul Garcia, M.D., about
her ankle. R. 1343–46. Dr. Garcia observed that Ms. Becerra had an antalgic gait, a limited
active range of motion, and an inability to perform provocative test due to stiffness. R. 1345–46.
He reviewed the MRI of her ankle and noted that it demonstrated calcaneonavicular coalition
with arthritic changes to the ankle. R. 1346. He recommended that Ms. Becerra be seen by an
orthopedic foot and ankle specialist.
On January 25, 2012, Ms. Becerra met with John R. Shank, M.D., an orthopedic foot and
ankle specialist. He found that a three view radiograph of the ankle demonstrated mild closing
down of the ankle anteriorly on the lateral radiograph with a calcaneal navicular tarsal coalition,
which was also confirmed by an MRI. R. 1418. Ms. Becerra had a slight thickening of the
peroneal tendons with evidence of a prior ATFL tear. Id. There was no evidence of a fracture or
chondral defect. Dr. Shank injected her ankle with medication, with directions to follow up over
the next several weeks to determine a treatment plan based on her response to the injection. R.
1419. By April 27, 2012, Ms. Becerra was reporting “significant improvement.” R. 1413.
On June 30, 2011, Ms. Becerra underwent a consultative examination with Ryan Otten,
M.D. Ms. Becerra complained of cognitive issues, migraines, and chronic neck and lower back
pain. R. 1195. She reported that she had been suffering from short-term memory limitations and
a decreased ability to multitask ever since her closed-head injury. Id. She said that she
experiences migraines about once a week, and that they tend to occur when she is under a lot of
stress or in a stressful environment. Id. In regards to her chronic lower back pain, she reported
that she needs to change position constantly in order to stay comfortable. Id. She also said she
suffers from constant pain in her neck and pain and tingling in both arms. Id. Finally, she told
Dr. Otten about her sprained ankle. Id. In regards to her daily living activities, Ms. Becerra
reported that she is able to get in and out of bed, dress herself, bathe herself, drive, cook, and
clean. R. 1196. She told Dr. Otten that she enjoys a number of hobbies, including sewing, golf,
skiing, bowling, reading, and baking. R. 1197. She also said that she would normally enjoy
walking but that she had been refraining from it since her ankle sprain. Id.
Dr. Otten observed that Ms. Becerra did not appear to have ataxic or antalgic ambulation,
though her Romberg was positive. R. 1198. He recorded Ms. Becerra’s ranges of motion,
noting that there was “moderate discernible discomfort with [her] ranges of motion in the neck,”
and that there was “mild discernible discomfort with [her] ranges of motion in the back.” R.
1199. He wrote that Ms. Becerra “seemed moderately uncomfortable while supine on the
examination table and this did seem to progress during the exam.” Id. In regards to her spine,
Dr. Otten found that there was “mild tenderness of the spinous processes of the cervical spine
and moderate tenderness of the spinous processes of the lumbar spine.” Id. Overall, Ms. Becerra
“appeared to sit comfortably during the exam and without pain-mitigating movements. She did
not appear uncomfortable getting on and off the examination table, removing shoes, and arose
spontaneously and unaided from a seated position without discernable discomfort.” R. 1197.
Dr. Otten diagnosed Ms. Becerra with mild cognitive defects and memory problems,
disequilibrium, chronic headaches and migraines, lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, and
cervical spine degenerative disc disease. R. 1200. He found that there “were no obvious
discrepancies between the claimant’s complaints and the physical exam findings. Based on the
objective findings, there are no recommended limitations on the number of hours the claimant
should be able to stand or sit during a normal 8-hour workday.” Id. He did recommend a
walking limitation of 3–4 hours per 8-hour day, but only due to her acute ankle sprain, adding
that “[i]t is likely that there will no longer be a walking limitation needed once the ankle has
healed.” Id. He found that Ms. Becerra could bend, squat, crouch, stoop, push, and pull
occasionally (less than four hours during an 8-hour workday), secondary to cervical and lumbar
spine degenerative disc disease. Id. He found that Ms. Becerra should be able to lift or carry
frequently less than 20 pounds or occasionally less than 40 pounds. Id. He added that Ms.
Becerra should have only occasional exposure to stairs and ladders. Id. He did not recommend
any assistive devices at that time. Id. Finally, he found that Ms. Becerra would likely have
difficulty with highly complex or stressful environments. Id.
On July 11, 2011, Ms. Becerra underwent a psychological consultative evaluation with
Louis Hoffman, Ph.D. R. 1201. Dr. Hoffman performed a mental status examination, which
resulted in a number of findings. First, he found that Ms. Becerra had an overall IQ score of 89,
in the low average range. R. 1205. She also fell in the low average range for verbal
comprehension and processing speed, though her perceptual reasoning was in the high average
range. Id. Her working memory score was in the borderline range—her most significant
impairment—such that it was possible Ms. Becerra “would have some impairment in her
Working Memory that would impact her in a work setting.” Id. Outside of her working
memory, Dr. Hoffman found that “there was not significant evidence that her cognitive
functioning impairment would be beyond what is mild.” Id. He qualified this conclusion, noting
that it was possible the evaluation was not fully representative of Ms. Becerra’s functioning in a
work setting when having to deal with fatigue and additional pain symptoms, id., but he said that
it did “not appear likely that [Ms. Becerra] would have difficulty learning and carrying out
simple work-related tasks beyond a mild and maybe moderate level when her pain and fatigue is
increased,” R. 1206.
Dr. Hoffman diagnosed Ms. Becerra with cognitive disorder not otherwise specified,
posttraumatic stress disorder in partial remission, and major depressive disorder in partial
remission. R. 1205–06. He gave Ms. Becerra a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”)
score of 63. R. 1206. This score indicates that she was experiencing “only mild psychologically
based symptoms or resulting functional impairment.” R. 19 (citing Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., American Psychiatric Assoc., Text Revision, 2000).
Dr. Hoffman concluded that Ms. Becerra’s cognitive disorder appeared “fairly mild” at
that time, though he strongly recommended that a more thorough evaluation of her memory
functioning be conducted. R. 1206. He added that it did not appear “very likely that Ms.
Becerra will show significant improvement in her functioning, particularly given that what she
has been experiencing thus far is deterioration. Her functioning may stabilize some if she is not
regularly fatigued and in as much pain.” R. 1207.
After applying for disability benefits, Ms. Becerra filled out a Function Report, R. 190–
200, and testified about her functional limitations in an administrative hearing, R. 29–53. In the
report, Ms. Becerra wrote that she had “poor memory, focus, concentration and recall problems
that limit [her ability] to keep a job and function.” R. 190. She reported a limitation in her
capacity to follow written and spoken instructions because of an inability to process information
quickly. Id. She said that she is forced to make notes reminding her to do certain tasks,
including take her medications. R. 191. Though Ms. Becerra cooks, she has burned dishes
because she gets distracted. R. 192. When she bakes, she has to measure everything out ahead
of time because she cannot remember whether she already added an ingredient. R. 47, 194.
Ms. Becerra reported that she cannot walk for long periods of time and that standing too
long will cause her pain, along with other postural positions such as squatting, bending, reaching,
and kneeling. R. 195. In particular, Ms. Becerra testified that she can walk about two miles at a
time, sit for about an hour or two before needing to get up, and stand for about an hour before
needing to sit down. R. 36–37. She uses heat, topical patches and creams, medications, physical
therapy, tens unit, and a hot tub to relieve her pain. Id.
Though Ms. Becerra can drive, she has to limit her driving time because she cannot stay
in one position for long periods of time. R. 193. She also loses focus and gets lost, needing to
stop to get herself oriented again. R. 48, 193. Though she can do light cleaning and laundry, her
husband needs to carry the laundry downstairs and has to help her clean heavy things. R. 192.
That said, Ms. Becerra testified that she could lift about 25–30 pounds, though not repetitively.
R. 37, 50.
Finally, Ms. Becerra reported that she enjoys watching TV, reading, sewing, skiing,
bowling, baking, and golfing, but added that she can no longer ski, bowl, or golf and has
limitations with her other hobbies. R. 194; see also R. 39–41. She also has “a lot of pain in [her]
wrist[,] arm[,] and fingers[.] [W]orking with them too much causes a lot of pain.” R. 197.
Overall, Ms. Becerra reported feeling constant pain ranging from moderate to severe on a daily
basis. R. 198. She said that it has made her miss work and that she can rarely participate in
social activities with her family. Id.
Denial of the Claim
The Social Security Administration uses a five part process to determine whether a
claimant qualifies for disability insurance benefits. 20 CFR § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ
must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 CFR §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). The ALJ found that Ms. Becerra had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her amended alleged onset date of June 12, 2009. 23 R. 14.
At step two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable
impairment that is “severe” or a combination of impairments that are “severe.” 20 CFR §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). The ALJ found that Ms. Becerra suffered from the following severe
impairments: cervicalgia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, cognitive disorder,
osteoarthritis of the left ankle, closed head injury, and depression. R. 14.
At step three, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant’s impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20
CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). The ALJ
determined that none of Ms. Becerra’s impairments—alone or in combination—met or medically
equaled one of the listed impairments in the Listings. R. 15.
Before reaching step four, the ALJ is required to determine the claimant’s residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). See R. 17; 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). An RFC represents “the
most [a claimant] can still do despite [her] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC is
“the claimant's maximum sustained work capability.” Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751
(10th Cir. 1988). The ALJ found that Ms. Becerra has an RFC to perform “light work” as
defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b), with a number of limitations: only occasionally pushing and
While Ms. Becerra worked through October 2009, the earnings from her part-time employment were
minimal such that her work did not constitute substantial gainful activity. See R. 30.
Based on the amended alleged date of onset, Ms. Becerra is categorized as an individual “closely
approaching advanced age.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563.
pulling with the left lower extremities within certain weight restrictions; only occasionally
climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, or scaffolds; no more than frequently reaching overhead with her
bilateral upper extremities; no more than frequently balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, or
crawling; and only occasional contact with the general public. R. 16. The ALJ reached this
decision by taking into consideration Ms. Becerra’s initial application, the testimony from the
hearing, the objective medical evidence on file, and the record as a whole. R. 16–20.
At step four, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform the requirements of her past work. 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The ALJ
found that Ms. Becerra could no longer perform past relevant work due to the excessive skill
requirements of those jobs. R. 20.
At step five the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy considering the claimant’s RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Taking into account the
limitations noted above, the ALJ found that Ms. Becerra would be able to perform the
requirements of representative unskilled, light exertional occupations such as router, marker, and
inspector, all three of which exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 21.
Ms. Becerra raises two issues on appeal. She argues that (1) the ALJ’s credibility
analysis was based on an incorrect legal standard and not supported by substantial evidence; and
(2) the ALJ’s RFC assessment was based on an incorrect legal standard and not supported by
After reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties, the written decision of the ALJ, and
the entire administrative record, the Court finds that the ALJ gave Ms. Becerra’s case a thorough
review accompanied by a detailed explanation of her decision. ALJ Burgchardt used the correct
legal standard when undertaking the credibility analysis and the RFC assessment, and both
results were supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Ms. Becerra argues that the ALJ erred as a matter of law when she found that “Ms.
Becerra’s asserted pain levels were not credible” based on Ms. Becerra’s “ability to engage in a
wide variety of . . . daily activities.” [ECF No. 14 at 15]. In particular, Ms. Becerra argues that
the ALJ “did not consider all of the relevant evidence,” and that Ms. Becerra’s ability to perform
a limited range of activities “should not be determinative of whether she has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work over the course of a normal workweek.” Id. at 16. Ms.
Becerra mischaracterizes the ALJ’s analysis and findings.
First, ALJ Burgchardt discussed a variety of factors that led to her credibility
determination, including discrepancies among Ms. Becerra’s statements, inconsistencies between
statements of pain and reported activities, and an evaluation of the objective medical evidence on
file. See R. 16–20. As to the medical evidence, the ALJ found that it “fails to provide support
for a finding that the claimant has experienced a level of dysfunction matching her complaints of
pain and other reported symptoms.” R. 17. Second, ALJ Burgchardt took Ms. Becerra’s
statements regarding her range of daily activities to reflect only on her credibility, not on her
ability to work. R. 17 (“While these reported activities do not necessarily reflect on [Ms.
Becerra’s] ability to sustain work-related activities throughout a regular schedule, they are
nevertheless inconsistent with her allegation of such extensive physical and mental limitations.”).
Overall, the Court finds that the ALJ took into account a number of relevant factors when
assessing Ms. Becerra’s credibility, and that there is substantial evidence in the record supporting
her credibility determination.
B. RFC Assessment
Ms. Becerra’s second argument is that the ALJ erred as a matter of law by failing to
consider the limiting effects of all of the claimant’s impairments, even those that are not severe.
Ms. Becerra contends that the ALJ’s RFC assessment erroneously discounted (1) Dr. Otten’s
finding that Ms. Becerra could walk no more than 3–4 hours in a day; and (2) Dr. Hoffman’s
qualifications regarding Ms. Becerra’s cognitive functions. [ECF No. 14 at 17–18].
To begin, Dr. Otten examined Ms. Becerra on June 30, 2011, almost a year before the
ALJ hearing and decision. At that time, Dr. Otten found that Ms. Becerra could only walk for 3–
4 hours in an 8-hour day due to an acute ankle sprain that had occurred a few months earlier. R.
1200. He wrote, “It is likely that there will no longer be a walking limitation needed once the
ankle has healed.” Id. The ALJ took Dr. Otten’s qualification into account in her RFC
assessment by considering whether recent medical records indicated that Ms. Becerra’s sprained
ankle had improved, R. 19, which they had, R. 1413. In fact, the ALJ added that medical records
from June 2011 through April 2012 showed that Ms. Becerra did not exhibit instability in her
ankle, despite the sprain, and that she exhibited normal gait, balance, and stance. R. 19. The
Court finds that the ALJ gave thorough and sufficient reasons supporting her determination that
Dr. Otten’s walking limitation was no longer applicable.
As to Ms. Becerra’s cognitive limitations, the Court recognizes that Dr. Hoffman made
two notable qualifications in his report. First, he “strongly recommended that a more thorough
evaluation of [Ms. Becerra’s] memory functioning be conducted,” R. 1206, and none ever was.
However, in another part of his evaluation, Dr. Hoffman wrote that the additional testing was
needed to determine Ms. Becerra’s “ability to learn and carry out more complex work-related
tasks,” R. 1206, thereby suggesting that Ms. Becerra could perform simple tasks without further
evaluation. Second, Dr. Hoffman noted that “[t]here also appears to be an interaction between
[Ms. Becerra’s] physical health problems, particularly pain issues, and fatigue with her
psychological functioning. There may be times where her functioning is somewhat decreased
compared to what was evidenced in this evaluation. This should be taken into consideration in
the current appraisals of her functioning.” R. 1207. Yet, Dr. Hoffman also wrote that “[i]t does
not appear likely that [Ms. Becerra] would have difficulty learning and carrying out simple
work-related tasks beyond a mild and maybe moderate level when her pain and fatigue is
increased.” R. 1206. Finally, Dr. Hoffman ascribed to Ms. Becerra a GAF score of 63, R. 1206,
which indicates that she was experiencing “only mild psychologically based symptoms or
resulting functional impairment,” R. 19.
ALJ Burgchardt considered Dr. Hoffman’s report along with medical evidence from
treating sources. R. 19–20. She found that overall there was “little evidence of ongoing
psychological distress,” and that Ms. Becerra “would be able to complete a normal work day and
work week if her job tasks were simple in nature, and did not involve significant interaction with
others.” R. 20. The Court finds that the ALJ took into account Dr. Hoffman’s qualifications and
properly incorporated Ms. Becerra’s cognitive limitations into the RFC assessment.
The Court finds that the credibility analysis and the RFC assessment were both supported
by substantial evidence in the record, and that neither suffered from legal errors. The evidence in
the record could be read as indicating that Ms. Becerra’s condition is worsening. Whether a
different onset date and new evidence might support a disability claim is beyond the scope of this
review. However, this decision does not foreclose Ms. Becerra’s right to reapply for disability
benefits in the future.
The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
DATED this 24th day of April, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
R. Brooke Jackson
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?