Garcia v. Colvin
ORDER that the decision of the Commissioner that Plaintiff is not disabled is AFFIRMED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that each party shall bear its own costs and attorneys fees, by Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix on 9/28/2017. (jgonz, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Civil Action No. 16-cv-02311-KLM
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
ENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX
This matter is before the Court1 on the Social Security Administrative Record
[#11],2 filed November 14, 2016, in support of Plaintiff’s Complaint [#1] seeking review of
the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff’s claim for disability
insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401
et seq., and for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On December 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#15] (the
“Brief”). Defendant filed a Response [#19] in opposition, and Plaintiff filed a Reply [#20].
The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner’s final decision under 42 U.S.C. §§
The parties consented to proceed before the undersigned for all proceedings pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2. See [#13, #21].
“[#11]” is an example of the convention the Court uses to identify the docket number
assigned to a specific paper by the Court’s case management and electronic case filing system
(CM/ECF). This convention is used throughout this Order.
405(g) and 1383(c). The Court has reviewed the entire case file and the applicable law and
is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled at the age of forty on June 30, 2007. Tr.
30, 43.3 On December 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits
under Title II and for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Tr. 30. On April 25,
2016, an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 44.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2012, and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity (“SGA”) since June 30, 2007, the alleged onset date. Tr. 32. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffers from four severe impairments: (1) obesity; (2) syncope episodes; (3)
depression; and (4) anxiety. Tr. 32. However, the ALJ also found that these impairments,
individually or in combination, do not meet or medically equal “the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).” Tr. 33-35. The ALJ next
concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work with the following limitations:
[H]e has no limitations in sitting, lifting, or carrying; he can frequently stand
and occasionally walk. The claimant can occasionally bend, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. He must avoid unprotected heights, driving, operating
dangerous machinery, and climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The
The Court refers to the Transcript of the Administrative Proceedings, located at Docket
Nos. 11 through 11-26 by the sequential transcript numbers instead of the separate docket
claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple 2-3 step
instructions an[d] can complete a normal workday and workweek without
interruption and can work at a consistent pace. He can sustain superficial
noncollaborative interactions, supervisors, and the general public, and he is
capable of adapting to changes in pressures in the workplace if changes are
occasional and pressure is frequent or less.
Tr. 35. Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), the
ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform no past relevant work, but that he was able to
perform the representative occupations of small parts assembler, mailroom clerk, and office
helper. Tr. 43. She therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential
evaluation. Tr. 44. The ALJ’s decision has become the final decision of the Commissioner
for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
II. Standard of Review and Applicable Law
Pursuant to the Act:
[T]he Social Security Administration is authorized to pay disability insurance
benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons who have a
“disability.” A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such
benefits, “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.”
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B)). Under the applicable legal standard, a claimant is disabled if he or she
is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a); see also
Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a)). The
existence of a qualifying disabling impairment must be demonstrated by “medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic” findings.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3),
“When a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social Security [Act]
requires the [Commissioner] to consider the combined effects of the impairments in making
a disability determination.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d 1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987)
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C)). However, the mere existence of a severe impairment or
combination of impairments does not require a finding that an individual is disabled within
the meaning of the Act. To be disabling, the claimant’s condition must be so functionally
limiting as to preclude any substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive
months. See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir. 1995).
The Court reviews a final decision by the Commissioner by examining the
administrative record and determining “whether the [ALJ’s] factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were
applied.” Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). However, 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) (quoting Barnett v. Apfel, 231 F.3d
687, 689 (10th Cir. 2000)). In other words, the Court does not reexamine the issues de
novo. Sisco v. U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 10 F. 3d 739, 741 (10th Cir. 1993).
Thus, even when some evidence could support contrary findings, the Court “may not
displace the agency’s choice between two fairly conflicting views,” even if the Court may
have “made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v. Astrue,
509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).
The Social Security Administration uses a five-step framework to determine whether
a claimant meets the necessary conditions to receive Social Security benefits. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through
four, and if the claimant fails at any of these steps, consideration of any subsequent step
or steps is unnecessary. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (“If a
determination can be made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not disabled,
evaluation under a subsequent step is not necessary.”). The Commissioner bears the
burden of proof at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
Step one requires the ALJ to determine whether a claimant is “presently engaged
in substantial gainful activity.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quoting Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
1140, 1142 (10th Cir. 2004)). If not, the ALJ considers at step two whether a claimant has
“a medically severe impairment or impairments.” Id. “An impairment is severe under the
applicable regulations if it significantly limits a claimant’s physical or mental ability to
perform basic work activities.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521). Next,
at step three, the ALJ considers whether a claimant’s medically severe impairments are
equivalent to a condition “listed in the appendix of the relevant disability regulation,” i.e., the
“Listings.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quoting Allen, 357 F.3d at 1142). “If a claimant’s
impairments are not equivalent to a listed impairment, the ALJ must consider, at step four,
whether a claimant’s impairments prevent [him or her] from performing [his or her] past
relevant work.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citing Allen, 357 F.3d at 1142). “Even if a claimant
is so impaired, the agency considers, at step five, whether [he or she] possesses the
sufficient [RFC] to perform other work in the national economy.” Id.
An ALJ must consider all evidence and explain why he or she finds a claimant not
disabled. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1996). However, the ALJ need
not specifically “reference everything in the administrative record.” Wilson, 602 F.3d at
1148. “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1140 (internal quotation marks omitted). “It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). A decision by the ALJ is not based on substantial evidence
“if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record . . . .” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). In other words, the Court’s determination of whether the
ALJ has supported his or her ruling with substantial evidence “must be based upon the
record taken as a whole.” Washington v. Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994).
Further, evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). In addition, “if the ALJ failed to apply the
correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence.”
Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in two ways in her decision. Brief [#15] at 2. First,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not give sufficient weight to the medical opinions in the
record. Id. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not offer a sufficient explanation for
rejecting Plaintiff’s testimony. Id. The Court begins with the second argument.
At the outset, the Court notes that on March 28, 2016, Social Security Ruling 96–7p
was superseded by Social Security Ruling 16–3p. The new Ruling eliminates the term
“credibility” from the Administration’s sub-regulatory policy. The ALJ’s decision in this case
was issued on April 25, 2016, see Tr. 44, and therefore the Court examines the issue of the
ALJ’s evaluation of Plaintiff’s testimony pursuant to Social Security Ruling 16–3p. The
Court notes, however, that the regulations governing the evaluation of a claimant’s
testimony have not changed, and despite elimination of the term “credibility,” the analysis
appears to be materially the same, i.e., determining whether the claimant’s testimony, daily
activities, medication use, etc., are consistent with the objective medical record, the
opinions of medical professionals, etc., such that a finding of disability based on the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the claimant’s symptoms is warranted under
the Act. See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. § 416.929.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning for rejecting
Plaintiff’s testimony about his pain. Brief [#15] at 36-37. Regarding the evaluation of
whether pain is disabling, an ALJ must consider:
(1) whether the claimant established a pain-producing impairment by
objective medical evidence; (2) if so, whether the impairment is reasonably
expected to produce some pain of the sort alleged (what we term a “loose
nexus”); and (3) if so, whether, considering all the evidence, both objective
and subjective, the claimant’s pain was in fact disabling.
Brownrigg v. Berryhill, 688 F. App’x 542, 545 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting Keyes–Zachary v.
Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166-67 (citing Luna v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 161, 163-64 (10th Cir.
1987)). In conducting this analysis, the ALJ considers a variety of factors, including “a
claimant’s persistent attempts to find [pain relief] and [his] willingness to try any treatment
prescribed, regular use of crutches or a cane, regular contact with a doctor . . . and the
claimant’s daily activities, and the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication.”
Brownrigg, 688 F. App’x at 545 (quoting Keyes–Zachary, 695 F.3d at 1167). The ALJ’s
analysis does not need to formally address each factor, “but the substance must be there.”
Brownrigg, 688 F. App’x at 546 (citing Keyes-Zachary, 695 F.3d at 1167).
The ALJ held that “[a]fter careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned
finds that the claimant’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected
to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant’s statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with
the medical evidence and other evidence in the record for the reasons explained in this
decision.” Tr. 36. After a lengthy discussion of the record, the ALJ stated:
The claimant’s allegations of restrictions and symptoms related to his
impairments are not entirely consistent with the objective medical
assessments of record. Although the claimant repeatedly complains of
severe traumatic brain injuries, there is no specific objective finding of a
traumatic brain injury in the record. Rather, the treatment records note and
repeat the claimant’s allegations. He has experienced some syncopal
episodes, but these have not been documented as frequent, and the
restrictions caused by his symptoms have been accounted for in the [RFC].
As for his mental health treatment, there has been documented improvement
with medication and the claimant’s treatment regimen has been conservative.
The ALJ adequately evaluated Plaintiff’s pain. She discussed at length the objective
medical evidence, including issues relating to Plaintiff’s knee, lower extremities, shoulder,
and headaches/migraines. See Tr. 36-39. The ALJ determined that there was a “loose
nexus” between the medical evidence and Plaintiff’s pain. Despite Plaintiff’s comment that
the ALJ rejected Plaintiff’s testimony, see Brief [#15] at 36-37, there is no indication that the
ALJ fully rejected Plaintiff’s testimony. Rather, the ALJ merely stated that Plaintiff’s
testimony was not fully consistent with disabling pain. Plaintiff does not contradict the ALJ’s
finding that there was “no specific objective finding of a traumatic brain injury in the record,”
Tr. 42, and, importantly, does not offer any explanation as to why one was not in the
record, such as, for example, unavailability of relevant medical records. See Brief [#15] at
Similarly, regarding the episodes of syncope, the ALJ acknowledged that Plaintiff
experienced some and, despite finding that the record did not support the frequency which
Plaintiff asserted, the ALJ still accounted for them in the RFC by assessing that Plaintiff
must avoid unprotected heights, driving, operating dangerous machinery, and climbing
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Tr. 35, 42. Regarding Plaintiff’s daily activities, Plaintiff’s
statements about personal care, cooking, laundry, and other activities, while not
demonstrating beyond any doubt that Plaintiff is not disabled, do tend to suggest that
Plaintiff is capable of a higher level of activity than a person who is disabled under the Act.
See, e.g., Castellano v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1029 (10th Cir.
1994). The ALJ’s statements regarding Plaintiff’s treatment and the generally positive
effect it had on Plaintiff’s impairments is also supported by substantial evidence. See Tr.
In short, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by mischaracterizing and/or ignoring
evidence favoring Plaintiff. However, the Court must “decline [Plaintiff’s] invitation to
reweigh the evidence to substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner” when the
ALJ has utilized the correct legal standards in her finding. Harper, 528 F. App’x at 892
(citing Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1173 (10th Cir. 2005)). The ALJ is not required
to discuss every piece of evidence she considers. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10
(10th Cir. 1996). She is only required to explain and support with substantial evidence
which parts of a claimant's testimony she did not fully believe and why. See McGoffin v.
Barnhart, 288 F.3d 1248, 1254 (10th Cir. 2002). Here, based on the Court’s review of the
ALJ’s determinations, the Court finds that the ALJ did precisely what was required by
identifying a number of inconsistencies in the record. See Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136,
1146 (10th Cir. 2010). Although Plaintiff appears to want the ALJ to perform “a formalistic
factor-by-factor recitation of the evidence,” this is not what is required. See Wahpekeche
v. Colvin, 640 F. App’x 781, 783 (10th Cir. 2016).
Accordingly, the Court finds no reversible error in connection with the ALJ’s
determination regarding Plaintiff’s testimony.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give sufficient weight to certain medical
opinions in the evidentiary record. He argues that the ALJ mis-weighed the opinions of
Robin Watts, Psy.D. (‘Watts”), C. McGuire, DO (“McGuire”), Mary Ellen Dooley, PMHNPBC (“Dooley”), and Brian Goetsch, M.A. (“Goetsch”).
An ALJ must give the opinion of a treating physician controlling weight only when it
is both: (1) “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and (2) “consistent with other substantial evidence in the record.” Watkins v.
Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003). “[I]f the opinion is deficient in either of
these respects, then it is not entitled to controlling weight.”
Even if a treating
physician’s medical opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, however, “[t]reating source
medical opinions are still entitled to deference and must be weighed using all of the factors
provided in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.” Fowler v. Bowen, 876 F.2d 1451, 1453 (10th Cir.
1989). Those factors are:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination;
(2)the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, including the treatment
provided and the kind of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree to
which the physician’s opinion is supported by relevant evidence; (4)
consistency between the opinion and the record as a whole; (5) whether or
not the physician is a specialist in the area upon which an opinion is
rendered; and (6) other factors brought to the ALJ’s attention which tend to
support or contradict the opinion.
Drapeau v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 1211, 1213 (10th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
Although the six factors listed above are to be considered in weighing medical opinions, the
Court does not insist on a factor-by-factor analysis so long as the “ALJ’s decision [is]
‘sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator
gave to the treating source’s medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.’” Oldham,
509 F.3d at 1258 (quoting Watkins, 350 F.3d at 1300).
In connection with Dr. Watts’s opinion, the ALJ commented:
One of the claimant’s mental health providers, Robin Watts, Psy.D., prepared
a medical source statement dated December 16, 2015. Dr. Watts noted that
she treated the claimant weekly for major depressive disorder, severe with
psychotic features and disruptive mood dysregulation. She claimed the
claimant experienced severe depression, which included very low mood,
suicidal ideation, irritability, low motivation, excessive guilt, feelings of
worthlessness, and psychotic features. She noted the claimant also had
posttraumatic stress disorder and history of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Watts
noted the claimant’s impairments would require him to lie down during the
day; he could not travel alone as he reported blackouts; the claimant’s
combination of medical and mental health assessments suggest a high level
of impairment that impaired both working ability and daily functioning; he
reported high levels of daily pain and frequent headaches; because of his
combination of medical and mental health issues the claimant could not
resume work; and his disability was likely not to change.
The opinions of Dr. Watts are given little weight as they appear based largely
on the claimant’s subjective complaints; Dr. Watts is not a doctor of physical
medicine, yet offers opinions in part related to the claimant’s physical
functioning; findings of disability are reserved for the Commissioner . . . ;
there is a complete lack of support for such restrictive opinions in the medical
evidence of record; and the claimant’s treatment regimen and the objective
medical evidence of record does not support such severe restrictions,
including the findings of both the psychological and physical consultative
examiners, as previously addressed. As such, Dr. Watt’s [sic] opinion is not
entitled to controlling weight, and is given little weight.
Tr. 40 (internal citations omitted).
In connection with Dr. McGuire’s opinion, the ALJ stated:
Further, Dr. C. McGuire, DO, one of the claimant’s mental health providers
prepared a medical source statement dated December 16, 2015 in which she
noted she saw the claimant weekly for medical management. Dr. McGuire
suggested that the claimant had a severe traumatic brain injury associated
with black outs, along with depression, sleep issues, paranoia, some
hallucinations, hypervigilance [sic], flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, and a
history of substance abuse. She noted that the claimant’s assessments
included posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder with
psychotic features, history of traumatic brain injury, and history of stimulant
use in complete remission. The claimant’s medications were noted to
included [sic] Lamictal, Zoloft, Seroquel, and Hydroxyzine. Dr. McGuire
reported that the claimant has experienced severe psychiatric symptoms
since 2007; he could not continue or resume work; and his disability was not
likely to change.
The opinions of Dr. McGuire are given little weight as they too appear based
largely on the claimant’s subjective complaints; findings of disability are
reserved for the Commissioner . . . ; there is a lack of support for such
restrictive opinions in the medical evidence of record; and the claimant’s
treatment regimen and the objective medical evidence of record does not
support such severe restrictions, including the findings of both the
psychological and physical consultative examiners, as previously addressed.
Further, there is no evidence to support treatment of the claimant’s
allegations back to the date these opinions establish disability.
Tr. 40-41 (internal citations omitted).
With respect to Ms. Dooley’s opinion, the ALJ stated:
Additionally, Mary Ellen Dooley, PMHNP-BC, one of the claimant’s medical
providers also prepared an opinion dated December 16, 2015. Ms. Dooley
noted she treated the claimant every two to four weeks and prescribed him
psychiatric medicine. She stated the claimant’s assessments were major
depressive disorder with psychotic features, posttraumatic stress disorder,
history of traumatic brain injury, and history of stimulant use. Ms. Dooley
further noted that the claimant had a disability and has been unable to work
since 2007; the claimant could not stand for six to eight hours because of
obesity, gastric bypass surgery; bilateral degenerative joint disease of the
knees; a shoulder disorder; and edema; the claimant could not travel alone;
he could not attend to direction to be safe on a job; he would have
frequent/daily issues with mood and inability to manage his posttraumatic
stress symptoms; he was medically unsafe to work; he could not continue or
resume work; and his disability was not likely to change.
The opinions of Ms. Dooley are given little weight as they appear based
largely on the claimant’s subjective complaints; Ms. Dooley is not an
acceptable medical source . . . ; findings of disability are reserved for the
Commissioner . . . ; there is a complete lack of support for such restrictive
opinions in the medical evidence of record; and the claimant’s treatment
regimen and the objective medical evidence of record does not support such
severe restrictions, including the findings of both the psychological and
physical consultative examiners, as previously addressed.
Tr. 41 (internal citations omitted).
With respect to Mr. Goetsch, Plaintiff notes that “[w]hile the ALJ did not mention or
assign specific weight to Mr. Goetsch’s opinion, his findings largely mirrored the findings
of the other three treating sources. Therefore, [Plaintiff] does not assert that the ALJ’s
failure to assign specific weight to this opinion automatically amounts to reversible error.”
Brief [#15] at 31 n.2.
The Court finds that the ALJ’s decision here is sufficiently specific to make clear the
weight she gave to the medical opinions and the reasons for that weight. See Oldham, 509
F.3d at 1258. The ALJ discounted the opinions of Dr. Watts, Dr. McGuire, and Ms. Dooley
because of the “complete lack of support for such restrictive opinions in the medical
evidence of record” and because Plaintiff’s “treatment regimen and the objective medical
evidence of record does not support such severe restrictions.” Tr. 40-41; see 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(4). For example, the ALJ discussed the results of Plaintiff’s consultative
examinations performed by Rebecca M. Bub, DO (“Bub”) and Kristi Helvig, Ph.D. (“Helvig”).
Tr. 40-41, 1050-55, 1064-70. Dr. Helvig opined that Plaintiff could concentrate and
understand simple information with some limits in memory, that Plaintiff “could currently
perform independently in the competitive workplace for a sustained period of time,” and that
Plaintiff’s “long term mental health prognosis [wa]s good if he engage[d] in consistent
treatment” such as counseling. Tr. 1054-55. Dr. Bub found that Plaintiff was capable of
unlimited sitting, frequent standing, occasional walking, unlimited lifting, and occasional
bending, stooping, squatting, crouching, and crawling. Tr. 1070. See Hamilton v. Sec’y of
Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1498-1500 (10th Cir. 1992) (stating that an ALJ
may rely on opinions of examining physicians over the opinions of treating physicians
where she has stated specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinions of treating
The ALJ also noted Plaintiff’s normal results on a variety of objective tests used to
assess any brain injury and his fainting episodes, including echocardiograms, EEGs, EKGs,
MRIs, and blood work. Tr. 37-38, 509, 665, 667, 889, 1003, 1192-93, 1211-12, 1230-31,
1245, 1306-08, 1489-90. See Raymond v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1272 (10th Cir. 2009)
(stating that an ALJ may discount a treating physician’s opinion when that opinion is
inconsistent with other medical evidence); see also Endriss v. Astrue, 506 F. App’x 772,
777 (10th Cir. 2012) (“The ALJ set forth a summary of the relevant objective medical
evidence earlier in his decision and he is not required to continue to recite the same
evidence again in rejecting [the physician’s] opinion.”).
In light of this evidence, the Court can find no reversible error regarding the ALJ’s
conclusion that Dr. McGuire, Dr. Watts, and Ms. Dooley premised their opinions about
Plaintiff’s mental functioning, including the impact of a possible brain injury, on Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(3) (“The more a medical source presents
relevant evidence to support an opinion, particularly medical signs and laboratory findings,
the more weight we will give that opinion.”); see White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 907-08
(10th Cir. 2001) (stating that the ALJ reasonably discounted a treating physician’s opinion
which was based on the claimant’s subjective assertions rather than objective medical
evidence). While the Court has reversed and remanded in situations where the ALJ’s only
reason for rejecting medical opinions regarding mental health was that the medical
professional had relied on Plaintiff’s subjective statements, see, e.g., Wignall v. Colvin, No.
14-cv-03327-KLM, 2016 WL 1253623, at *8 (D. Colo. Mar. 31, 2016), that is not the
situation here, where the ALJ properly discussed reasons why other evidence did not fully
support the subjective statements on which the medical professionals relied.
Finally, the Court notes that the ALJ did not err in discounting statements by the
medical professionals that Plaintiff was unable to work, because the ultimate decision
regarding disability is reserved to the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d). The Court
has thoroughly examined the ALJ’s opinion in this regard and finds that the ALJ has clearly
based her findings on substantial evidence. See, e.g., Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951,
954 (10th Cir. 2014) (“The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion describing
how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory
findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).”) (quoting Social
Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996)). The Court
declines to reweigh the ALJ’s determination that substantial evidence existed to contradict
the opinions of these medical professionals. Harper, 528 F. App’x at 892.
Accordingly, the Court finds no reversible error in connection with Plaintiff’s
argument on the issue of the weight the ALJ gave to the medical opinions in the record.
For the foregoing reasons,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner that Plaintiff is not
disabled is AFFIRMED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that each party shall bear its own costs and attorney’s
Dated: September 28, 2017
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?