Eagle v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner of
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying plaintiff's appeal. Signed by District Judge J. Thomas Marten on 7/8/2013. (mss)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
MISTY DAWN EAGLE,
Case No. 12-2166-JTM
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying the plaintiff, Misty Dawn Eagle, disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income payments. The matter has been fully briefed by the
I. Legal Standard
The court’s standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides
that “the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” The court should review the Commissioner’s decision to
determine only whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d
983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080,
February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became Acting Commissioner of Social Security, replacing
Michael J. Astrue, the former Commissioner of Social Security.
1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005)). It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372
F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004). Evidence is insubstantial when it is overwhelmingly
contradicted by other evidence. O’Dell v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (10th Cir. 1994). The
court’s role is not to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Cowan v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 1182, 1185 (10th Cir. 2008). Rather, the court
must determine whether the Commissioner’s final decision is “free from legal error and
supported by substantial evidence.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
The findings of the Commissioner will not be mechanically accepted. Nor will the
findings be affirmed by isolating facts and labeling them substantial evidence, as the
court must scrutinize the entire record in determining whether the Commissioner’s
conclusions are rational. Graham v. Sullivan, 794 F. Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The
court should examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly
detracts from the weight of the Commissioner’s decision and, on that basis, determine if
the substantiality of the evidence test has been met. Glenn, 21 F.3d at 984.
A claimant is disabled only if he or she can establish having a physical or mental
impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months
that preventing engaging in substantial gainful activity. Brennan v. Astrue, 501 F.
Supp.2d 1303, 1306-07 (D. Kan. Aug. 7, 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)). The physical or
mental impairment must be so severe that the individual cannot perform any of his or
her past relevant work and cannot engage in other substantial gainful work existing in
the national economy, considering the individual’s age, education, and work
experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).
Pursuant to the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has
established a five-step evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled. If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the
evaluation process ends. Sorenson v. Bowen, 888 F.2d 706, 710 (10th Cir. 1989). At step
one, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant can show that he or she is
not working at a “substantial gainful activity.” At step two, the agency will find nondisability unless the claimant shows that he or she has a “severe impairment,” which is
defined as any “impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits
[the claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” At step three, the
agency determines whether the impairment that enabled the claimant to survive step
two is on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one disabled. If the
claimant’s impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment in step three, the
inquiry proceeds. Before continuing on to step four, the agency will assess the
claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC). This RFC assessment is used to evaluate
the claim at both step four and step five.
At step four, the agency assesses whether the claimant can do his or her previous
work; the claimant must show that he or she cannot perform such work or is
determined not to be disabled. If the claimant survives step four, the fifth and final step
requires the agency to consider vocational factors (the claimant’s age, education, and
past work experience) and to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Barnhart v. Thomas,
124 S. Ct. 376, 379–80 (2003).
The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the analysis. Nielson
v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993). At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in the
national economy. Nielson, 992 F.2d at 1120; Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487
(10th Cir. 1993). The Commissioner meets this burden if the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Thompson, 987 F.2d at 1487.
II. History of Case
On October 7, 2010, administrative law judge (ALJ) Melvin B. Werner issued his
decision. R. at 21–33.2 Eagle alleges that she has been disabled since March 24, 2008.
R. at 21. Eagle meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through
September 30, 2012. R. at 23. At step one, the ALJ found that Eagle had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since Eagle’s alleged onset date. Id. At step two the ALJ
found that Eagle had the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Eagle’s impairments do not
meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. After determining Eagle’s RFC, the ALJ
determined at step four that Eagle is unable to perform her past relevant work. R. at 31.
At step five, the ALJ determined that Eagle could perform other jobs that exist in
record is attached to Dkt. 8 in several exhibits.
significant numbers in the national economy. Id. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Eagle was not disabled. R. at 32.
Eagle claims the ALJ erroneously determined her RFC at step four of the process
and that the ALJ erroneously evaluated step five of the sequential evaluation process. In
her step four argument, Eagle claims the ALJ did not properly weigh the medical
opinion of her treating doctor, the ALJ erred because he ignored the GAF score of 50
assigned by Dr. Pulcher, and the ALJ improperly picked and chose parts of the
numerous medical opinions to support his conclusion. In her step five argument, Eagle
asserts that the ALJ’s question for the vocational expert at the hearing was improper
because it left out the limiting effects of Eagle’s mental impairments. Eagle argues that
the ALJ erred by relying on the vocational expert’s answer in his step five analysis.
The Commissioner argues that the ALJ’s assessment of the medical opinion
evidence is supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner also argues that the
ALJ’s hypothetical question to the vocational expert included all of Eagle’s credible
III. The ALJ’s RFC Findings Are Supported by Substantial Evidence
According to SSR 96–8p, the RFC assessment “must include a narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific
medical facts . . . and nonmedical evidence.” The ALJ must explain how any material
inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in the case record were considered and
resolved. The RFC assessment must always consider and address medical source
opinions. If the RFC assessment conflicts with an opinion from a medical source, the
ALJ must explain why the opinion was not adopted. SSR 96–8p, 1996 WL 374184 at *7.3
It is insufficient for the ALJ to only generally discuss the evidence, but fail to relate that
evidence to his conclusions. Cruse v. U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 49 F.3d 614,
618 (10th Cir. 1995). When the ALJ has failed to comply with SSR 96-8p because he has
not linked his RFC determination with specific evidence in the record, the court cannot
adequately assess whether relevant evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC determination.
Such bare conclusions are beyond meaningful judicial review. Brown v. Comm’r of the
Social Security Admin., 245 F. Supp.2d 1175, 1187 (D. Kan. 2003).
The ALJ made the following RFC findings regarding Eagle:
. . . claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) in that she can lift 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk about 6 hours out of an
8 hour workday, with normal breaks; can sit for about 6 hours out of an 8
hour workday, with normal breaks; and push and/or pull the same
weights; except the claimant can only occasionally bend, stoop, squat,
crouch, and perform bimanual overhead reaching; must have the
opportunity to alternate positions every 30 minutes; and is moderately
limited, defined as more than a slight limitation but still able to function
satisfactorily, in her ability to understand, remember, and carry-out
detailed instructions and get along with co-workers or peers without
distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.
R. at 26. Eagle argues that the ALJ’s RFC is not supported by the evidence for several
reasons, each of which the court addresses below.
A. Evaluation of Dr. Leonard’s Medical Opinion
First, Eagle argues that the ALJ did not properly consider Dr. J. Sandra Leonard’s
medical opinion regarding her mental impairments. Dr. Leonard, Eagle’s treating
rulings are binding on an ALJ. 20 C.F.R. § 402.35(b)(1); Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 n. 9 (1990);
Nielson v. Sullivan, F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993).
mental health provider, offered an opinion indicating that Eagle’s mental condition
would impose a significant number of marked and extreme limitations on her
functioning. R. at 475–76.
A treating doctor’s opinion should be given controlling weight if it is supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(c)(2).
An ALJ must first consider whether the opinion is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d
1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003). If the answer to this question is “no,” then the inquiry is
complete. Id. If the ALJ finds that the opinion is well-supported, he must then confirm
that the opinion is consistent with other substantial evidence in the record. Id. In other
words, if the opinion is deficient in either of these respects, then it is not entitled to
controlling weight. Id.
Even if the treating doctor’s medical opinion is not entitled to controlling weight,
it is still entitled to deference and must be weighed using the factors provided in 20
C.F.R. 404.1527(c) and 416.927(c). Id. (citing to SSR 96–2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *4). These
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. Id. at 1301 (quotations
If the ALJ rejects the opinion completely, he must then give specific, legitimate
reasons for doing so. Id. “In choosing to reject the treating physician’s assessment, an
ALJ may not make speculative inferences from medical reports and may reject a
treating physician’s opinion outright only on the basis of contradictory medical
evidence and not due to his or her own credibility judgments, speculation or lay
opinion.” McGoffin v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 1248, 1252 (10th Cir.2002) (quotation and
emphasis omitted). Further, when a treating physician’s opinion is inconsistent with
other medical evidence, the ALJ's task is to examine the other physician’s reports to see
if they outweigh the treating physician’s report, not the other way around.” Goatcher v.
United States Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 52 F.3d 288, 290 (10th Cir.1995) (quotations
In his RFC conclusions, the ALJ stated that Eagle is “moderately limited . . . in
her ability to understand, remember, and carry-out detailed instructions and get along
with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.”
R. at 26. Although Dr. Leonard had noted Eagle’s limitations in these areas, she had
assessed them as “marked” and “extreme,” rather than moderate. R. at 475–76. In his
RFC, the ALJ did not adopt any of Dr. Leonard’s many remaining assessed marked or
extreme limitations. Ultimately, the ALJ found Dr. Leonard’s opinion “less than
persuasive” and gave it “little weight.” In his opinion, the ALJ relied on many facts that
contradicted Dr. Leonard’s opinion regarding the severity of Eagle’s mental limitations.
The court finds that the ALJ relied on substantial evidence in weighing Dr. Leonard’s
opinion this way.
In the ALJ’s paragraph B assessment of Eagle’s mental limitations during step
three, he found that Eagle has only mild restriction in the activities of daily living. R. at
25. The ALJ relied on the fact that Eagle had alleged her limitations in daily living
activities were attributable to her physical condition rather than her mental
impairments. The ALJ also noted that in July of 2010, Eagle told Dr. Stanley Mintz, the
consultative examiner, that she was able to perform all of her activities of daily living.
The ALJ found that Eagle’s social functioning was subject to moderate
difficulties. R. at 25. Eagle alleged that she must be accompanied when going to the
store, which is allegedly the only place she goes. However, the ALJ pointed out that the
record indicated Eagle was able to go to medical appointments and counseling alone. R.
at 25. The ALJ also stated that despite Dr. Mintz’s assertion that Eagle might have
difficulty interacting with supervisors and co-workers, Eagle had not reported any
problems getting along with others or dealing with authority. Id. As the ALJ also noted,
Eagle indicated that her social limitations were primarily due to her alleged physical
The ALJ also found only mild limitations in Eagle’s concentration, persistence, or
pace. Id. He relied on Dr. Mintz’s narrative report, which stated that Eagle remains
capable of understanding simple and intermediate instructions, as well as
concentrating. The ALJ also referred to Dr. Robert Pulcher’s psychological report, which
stated that Eagle was able to understand, remember instructions and pay attention
during his evaluation. Id.
In evaluating Dr. Leonard’s opinion, the ALJ pointed out that her treatment
notes show that she saw Eagle for less than a year. R. at 30. The ALJ also stated that Dr.
Leonard’s treatment notes do not provide a basis for finding such limitations. Id. Also,
as indicated by the ALJ, Dr. Leonard gave her opinion several months after the date the
treatment notes ceased. Id. The ALJ stated that although the treatment notes reflect
some deterioration in Eagle’s condition immediately after her boyfriend committed
suicide, the notes also show that her condition improved shortly thereafter. Id. Further,
as indicated by the ALJ, there is no indication that Eagle’s mental functioning remained
deteriorated for at least twelve months. Id.
The ALJ gave significant weight to Dr. Mintz’s narrative report because he found
that it was consistent with his examination report and the longitudinal record. The
court finds that the ALJ sufficiently explained how Dr. Mintz’s narrative report
outweighed Dr. Leonard’s opinion. See Goatcher, 52 F.3d at 290. Essentially, Eagle’s
statements to Dr. Mintz, as well as her performance on his examination, showed her to
be much less limited than Dr. Leonard had believed.
As part of Dr. Mintz’s examination, he took several notes showing that Eagle’s
memory processes appeared intact. For example, he noted that she could give “an
adequate social history and an adequate account of her circumstances” as well as
“identify Amelia Earhart, John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, [and] Cleopatra, but not
Martin Luther King, Jr., from history.” Dr. Mintz administered Trails A and B tests,
which Eagle completed with zero errors, suggesting she had no visual/spatial cognitive
impairments. Dr. Mintz also administered the MMPI-2 (Minnestoa Multiphasic
Personality Inventory) test. He interpreted Eagle’s results as presenting a “faking bad”
profile,” “in which the individual appears to be exaggerating symptoms of mental
illness.” The ALJ found that this undercut Eagle’s own subjective claims regarding the
extent of her mental limitations, upon which Dr. Leonard’s medical opinion relied.
In Dr. Mintz’s narrative summary, he noted that Eagle “can understand simple
and intermediate instructions,” but “may have some difficulty getting along with coworkers and supervisors due to mental illness symptoms.” The ALJ found that this
conclusion was in line with Dr. Mintz’s examination notes, which stated that Eagle
“exhibited symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and panic attack symptoms.” Dr.
Mintz also completed a medical source statement that indicated Eagle would experience
limitations in responding to work situations or changes in routine. The ALJ found these
conclusions unsupported by Dr. Mintz’s examination and narrative, giving it little
weight. The court finds the ALJ’s opinion supported by substantial evidence in his
weighing of Dr. Mintz’s reports.
Dr. Leonard’s medical source statement suggested that Eagle had extremely
severe limitations, such as “no useful ability” to get along with others without
exhibiting “behavioral extremes.” R. at 476. Although her treatment notes indicate one
incident over a nine-month period in which Eagle was rude to her house guests, the
court agrees with the ALJ that the notes do not provide any basis for finding such an
extreme limitation. Despite never describing socially inappropriate behavior or poor
grooming by Eagle in her notes, Dr. Leonard indicated she would have moderate
inability to maintain “socially appropriate behavior” or adhere to basic standards of
cleanliness. R. at 476. Dr. Leonard’s statement says Eagle would be extremely limited in
her ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods and carry out
detailed instructions. But Dr. Mintz and Dr. Pulcher both gave contradictory opinions
on these points.
The ALJ stated that although Eagle’s medically determinable impairments
reasonably could be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, her statements concerning
the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible. The
court finds this statement well-supported. It explains the fundamental difference
between the ALJ’s RFC and Dr. Leonard’s own conclusions: the ALJ found that Eagle
may be limited in areas pointed out by Dr. Leonard, but that those limitations were not
as severe as Dr. Leonard believed. Considering all the evidence, including Eagle’s
“faking bad” profile on the MMPI-2 test, the court finds the ALJ had substantial
evidence to give Dr. Leonard’s opinion little weight and he gave specific, legitimate
reasons for doing so. See Watkins, 350 F.3d at 1300.
B. Dr. Pulcher’s GAF Score
Eagle argues that the ALJ erred by not addressing Dr. Pulcher’s assigning a GAF
score of 50 to Eagle. 4 The court finds that the ALJ did not err in this respect.
(global assessment of functioning) scores can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders. The score in this case represents the following:
There is a distinction between what an adjudicator must consider and what the
adjudicator must explain in the disability determination or decision. SSR 06–03p, 2006
WL 2329939 at *6. The ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the record; it is
enough if the ALJ discusses the evidence supporting his decision, “the uncontroverted
evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well as the significantly probative evidence he
rejects.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1010 (10th Cir. 1996).
Here, Dr. Pulcher’s GAF score of 50 was neither uncontroverted nor significantly
probative. See Luttrell v. Astrue, 453 Fed. Appx. 786, 792 (10th Cir. 2011) (stating ALJ’s
failure to consider GAF scores that were neither uncontroverted nor significantly
probative did not merit reversal). First, Dr. Mintz’s examination report, which the ALJ
gave significant weight to, assigned a GAF score of 55 to Eagle, contradicting Dr.
Pulcher’s GAF score. A score of 55 is significantly different than a score of 50; the latter
indicates serious symptoms or impairments, while the former indicates only moderate
symptoms or impairments. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM-IV-TR) (4th ed., text revision, American Psychiatric Association 2000 at 34). Dr.
Mintz also noted that despite Eagle’s low average intellect and limited attention span,
she could perform simple clinical tests of memory and concentration, such as counting
backwards by threes. R. at 482–83. Second, the ALJ discussed the narrative portions of
Dr. Pulcher’s opinion, which were not consistent with serious impairments. Dr. Pulcher
41-50: Serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent
shoplifting), OR any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning
(e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job) . . .
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) (4th ed., text revision, American
Psychiatric Association 2000 at 34) (emphasis in original).
believed Eagle could understand and remember instructions and that most of her
limitations were due to her physical complaints, which the ALJ found were not
supported by the medical evidence. Third, once again, Eagle’s MMPI-2 test results
revealed an invalid profile that Dr. Mintz interpreted as Eagle “faking bad.” All of these
contradictory indications render Dr. Pulcher’s GAF score of 50 unhelpful. The court
finds that the ALJ’s failure to mention Dr. Pulcher’s GAF score was not erroneous,
because the score was not significantly probative or uncontroverted. See Clifton, 79 F.3d
C. Weight Given to the Various Medical Opinions
Eagle argues that the ALJ arbitrarily played “pick and choose” with the medical
opinions in order to support his opinion that she was not disabled. The court finds that
the ALJ did not improperly second guess the doctors’ opinions or pick and choose
favorable parts of his report, for the following reasons.
The ALJ is under no obligation to take an all-or-nothing approach to medical
opinions. The ALJ does not have to rely entirely on a doctor’s opinion, nor is he limited
to a simple choice of the medical opinions of record when he formulates the residual
functional capacity. See Chapo v. Astrue, 682 F.3d 1285, 1288 (10th Cir. 2012). It is the
ALJ’s duty to resolve conflicts in the medical evidence. Casias v. Sec. of Health & Human
Serv’s., 933 F.2d 799, 801 (10th Cir. 1991). An ALJ may reject the portions of a medical
opinion he finds are unsupported, while still assigning significant weight to the
portions of the opinion that are better supported. See Drummond v. Astrue, 895 F. Supp.
2d 1117, 1137 (D. Kan. Sept. 10, 2012).
In this case, the ALJ had several different medical opinions to consider, and
although they all generally agreed as to Eagle’s depression and general anxiety
diagnoses, the conclusions of her limitations covered a large spectrum. For example, Dr.
Leonard’s medical source statement found nine different categories under which she
believed Eagle would be markedly or extremely limited. Dr. Mintz’s medical source
statement found one marked limitation, and it was in an area in which Dr. Leonard had
found only moderate limitations. Dr. Lester Bland’s psychiatric review stated that
Eagle’s mental impairments were not even severe and her limitations only mild. Given
the wide variety of medical opinions in this case, the ALJ’s opinion could not agree with
The court finds that the ALJ adequately explained his reasons for weighing the
different opinions. He evaluated all of the medical opinions in accordance with the
appropriate standards, and he expressed the weight accorded to those opinions and the
reasons for that weight. The ALJ’s reasons are supported by substantial record evidence
and Eagle has not shown error in the analysis.
Residual functional capacity is a finding specifically reserved to the
Commissioner and the ALJ, not a claimant’s doctors. Chapo, 682 F.3d at 1288–89. The
Commissioner uses medical sources to “provide evidence” regarding several factors,
including RFC, but the “final responsibility for deciding these issues is reserved to the
Commissioner.” See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2).
The ALJ may also rely on his or her own assessment of credibility in evaluating
the plaintiff’s claims. See SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186. The ALJ’s determination “must
contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the
case record” and be “sufficiently specific” to inform subsequent reviewers of both the
weight the ALJ gave to a claimant’s statements and the reasons for that weight. Southard
v. Barnhart, 72 Fed. Appx. 781, 783 (10th Cir. July 28, 2003) (quoting SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL
374186 at *4 (1996)).
Here, the ALJ also relied on factors other than medical source opinions to assess
Eagle’s credibility. For example, the ALJ cited one treatment report by Dr. Timothy
Gabbart—another treating physician—which noted that Eagle was refusing treatment
for her allegedly painful knee. R. at 450. Dr. Gabbart observed that Eagle was trying to
get disability and that he doubted she would submit to any treatment besides pain
medications until she got her “[d]isability issue resolved.” R. at 450. The next month, as
the ALJ pointed out, Dr. Gabbart’s notes reflect that Eagle said she had to use a cane to
get around, but the doctor observed that “I just do not see that she is having that much
pain when she walks in here.” R. at 27, 448. As noted above in the analysis of the ALJ’s
treatment of Dr. Leonard’s opinion, the ALJ’s decision explained several reasons why
Eagle’s own allegations of her mental limitations were not credible.
The ALJ’s decision reflects that he carefully assessed the relevant medical
opinions regarding Eagle’s functioning. As the ALJ indicated, Eagle’s treatment records
or consultative reports did not document limitations consistent with disability. The
court affirms the ALJ’s RFC assessment because it is supported by substantial evidence.
IV. The ALJ’s Hypothetical Question Included all of Eagle’s Credible Limitations
Eagle argues that one question the ALJ relied on in his finding no disability was
improper because he omitted the marked and extreme mental limitations suggested by
Dr. Leonard from the questions he asked the vocational expert. When the ALJ asked the
vocational expert a hypothetical including all of Eagle’s alleged limitations, the vocation
expert testified she would be disabled. R. at 65.
Testimony elicited by hypothetical questions that do not relate with precision all
of a claimant’s impairments cannot constitute substantial evidence to support the
Secretary’s decision. See Hargis v. Sullivan, 945 F.2d 1482, 1492 (10th Cir. 1991) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted). But the ALJ is only required to ask
hypotheticals encompassing impairments that find support in the record. See Shepherd v.
Apfel, 184 F.3d 1196, 1203 (10th Cir. 1999) (hypothetical need only include limitations the
ALJ finds credible; remanded for other reasons). The ALJ is not required to rely on the
vocational expert’s answer to a hypothetical question that included non-credible
limitations. As long as the ALJ’s hypothetical accounted for Eagle’s credible complaints,
it was proper.
As the court has already discussed above, the ALJ had substantial evidence to
discard Dr. Leonard’s suggested limitations from the RFC. He asked the vocational
expert for her opinion regarding disability using a hypothetical that included all of the
alleged limitations that he found credible and relied on the expert’s answer in his
finding Eagle not disabled. The court finds this procedure was proper and affirms the
ALJ’s step five findings.
Eagle had a fair hearing and a full administrative consideration in accordance
with applicable statutes and regulations. Substantial evidence on the record as a whole
Commissioner’s decision for the reasons set forth above.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED this 8th day of July, 2013, that the present appeal is
hereby denied. The court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
s/J. Thomas Marten
J. THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE
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