Sorrells v. Astrue
ORDER - The Commissioner's decision is affirmed, the appeal is denied, and judgment in favor of the defendant will be entered in a separate document. Ordered by Magistrate Judge Thomas D. Thalken. (MKR)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
CRYSTAL DAWN SORRELLS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of the Social
This is an action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (the Commissioner).1 Crystal Dawn Sorrells (Sorrells)
appeals the Commissioner’s decision denying Sorrells’ application for disability benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381, et seq. Sorrells alleges she was disabled as of January 1, 2008, due to diabetes,
obesity, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a
history of seizure disorder.
Sorrells filed a brief (Filing No. 16) in support of this
administrative appeal. The Commissioner filed the administrative record (AR.) (Filing
No. 11) and a brief (Filing No. 21) in opposition of Sorrells’ appeal for benefits. Sorrells
did not file a brief in reply.
On February 26, 2010, and March 2, 2010, Sorrells filed an application for
disability benefits and SSI alleging her disability began January 29, 2000 (AR. 134-148).
The Commissioner denied benefits initially and on reconsideration (AR. 73-77, 80-84).
An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on July 26, 2011 (AR. 30-68). On
October 21, 2011, the ALJ determined Sorrells was not disabled as defined by the Act
from January 1, 2008,2 through the date of decision (AR. 10-23). The Appeals Council
The parties consented to jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). See Filing No. 15.
Sorrells amended her alleged onset date to January 1, 2008, during the hearing before the ALJ
(AR. 10, 34-35).
denied Sorrells’ request for review on October 25, 2012. Sorrells now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ’s determination as it represents the final decision of the SSA
Sorrells argues the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed and benefits
awarded because the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of a treating mental health
practitioner on the basis therapists are not acceptable medical sources and the ALJ
improperly provided greater weight to opinions from non-treating, non-examining
medical sources. See Filing No. 16 - Brief p. 3-4. After reviewing the ALJ’s decision,
the parties’ briefs, the record, and applicable law, the court finds the ALJ’s ruling, that
Sorrells was not disabled, is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
On June 28, 2006, Sorrells was admitted to Great Plains Regional Medical
Center (GPRMC) for a primary low transverse cesarean (AR. 298). The surgeon noted
Sorrells’ preoperative diagnoses was diabetes requiring insulin and suspected
macrosomia (AR. 298). The surgeon noted Sorrells tolerated the procedure well and
was in stable condition upon completion of the surgery (AR. 298).
Sorrells went to Midland Family Medicine (Midland) to report elevated blood
sugar on February 26, 2008 (AR. 427). Mary Dailey (Ms. Dailey)3 increased Sorrells’
insulin dosage (AR. 427). Sorrells reported improved blood sugar during a follow-up
appointment on March 4, 2008 (AR. 426). On March 18, 2008, Sorrells went to Midland
to check her blood sugar and diet (AR. 424). The examiner noted her blood sugar
levels were good in the morning, horrible at lunch, and high at supper (AR. 424). The
examiner adjusted Sorrells’ insulin regimen (AR. 424).
Sorrells saw Victor de Villa, M.D. (Dr. de Villa), an endocrinologist, for diabetes
management on June 12, 2008 (AR. 337-38).
Dr. de Villa noted Sorrells was
depressed, forgetful, and experienced loss of sleep (AR. 337). Dr. de Villa did not note
any symptoms of dizziness or fainting (AR. 337). Sorrells reported she used an insulin
Ms. Dailey’s credentials are not indicated in the record.
pump on and off (AR. 337). Dr. de Villa adjusted Sorrells’ insulin regimen and advised
her to test her blood sugar regularly (AR. 476).
On July 10, 2008, Sorrells saw Dr. de Villa for a check-up on Sorrells’ diabetes
(AR. 320). Sorrells reported problems with depression, blurred vision, and was on and
off her insulin pump (AR. 320). Dr. de Villa noted Sorrells’ glucose readings were
“much better,” she walks regularly and mows the lawn, and was “feeling well” overall
(AR. 320-321). Dr. de Villa opined Sorrells was alert, cooperative, and well groomed
On July 16, 2008, Sorrells saw Mark R. Young, M.D. (Dr. Young), for an eye
examination (AR. 629). Dr. Young noted Sorrells’ vision was 20/20 in each eye with a
few dot-and-blot hemorrhages and microaneurysms (AR. 629).
recommended a re-examination of Sorrells’ eyes after she gives birth to her second
baby (AR. 629).
On August 11, 2008, Dr. de Villa noted further improvement in Sorrells’ blood
sugar levels (AR. 327-28).
On September 4 and 11, 2008, Dr. de Villa made
adjustments in Sorrells’ insulin pump to address high glucose readings (AR. 335-336).
Dr. de Villa noted additional improvement on September 17, 2008, although Sorrells’
glucose readings in the early morning were “lowish” (AR. 323-326). Dr. de Villa noted
that Sorrells’ insulin requirements would change after she gave birth (AR. 325). Dr. de
Villa also examined Sorrells on September 20, 2008, the day after she delivered her
baby, to review Sorrells’ glucose levels and insulin pump (AR. 341). Dr. de Villa noted
Sorrells’ glucose levels were at acceptable limits (AR. 342).
On November 21, 2009, GPRMC emergency room admitted Sorrells following a
seizure (AR. 362). The examining doctor noted Sorrells was in stable condition (AR.
362). Sorrells told an examiner that her blood sugar had been running low and she was
not aware when her levels were low (AR. 362). A doctor diagnosed a “[s]eizure of
uncertain etiology,” noted the seizures “may be diabetic related,” and ordered tests (AR.
363). Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scans of
Sorrells’ head showed no acute abnormalities (AR. 368, 369).
Results of an
Electroencephalogram (EEG) test were abnormal, but did not show “clear epileptiform
activity” (AR. 373). On January 9, 2010, Sorrells went to Midland and reported anxiety,
depression, and dizziness following her seizure (AR. 416). An examiner prescribed an
antidepressant (AR. 416).
On February 1, 2010, Sorrells saw Sona K. Shah, M.D. (Dr. Shah), a neurologist
for complaints of dizziness and decreased memory (AR. 400-403). Dr. Shah noted
Sorrells had normal recent and remote memory, normal attention span and
concentration, normal cranial nerves, intact sensation, and full strength (AR. 402). She
also walked with a normal gait (AR. 403). Dr. Shah suspected that Sorrells’ seizure
might have been caused by low blood sugar and discussed hypoglycemic seizures with
Sorrells (AR. 403). Dr. Shah warned Sorrells to begin tracking her blood sugar levels
again (AR. 403). Dr. Shah asked Sorrells to refrain from swimming and bathing her
children (AR. 403). Dr. Shah ordered another EEG test, which showed “mildly abnormal
results” without clear epileptiform activity (AR. 403-404, 354).
Sorrells saw Dr. Shah again on February 11, 2010, for a routine follow-up
appointment (AR. 405-407). Dr. Shah noted Sorrells did not take initiative to monitor
her diabetes in the past but expressed willingness to change (AR. 407). Dr. Shah
informed Sorrells that abnormal severe variations in blood sugar can be a reason for a
seizure (AR. 407). Dr. Shah diagnosed uncontrolled diabetes and referred Sorrells to
an endocrinologist for diabetes management (AR. 407).
On February 22, 2010, Sorrells saw Ms. Daily at Midland (AR. 413). Sorrells
stated she wanted to discontinue her insulin pump and switch to oral insulin because it
was less expensive (AR. 413). Ms. Dailey advised Sorrells see an endocrinologist (AR.
413). She also prescribed Sorrells anti-anxiety medication (AR. 413).
On March 18, 2010, Sorrells completed a Daily Activities and Symptoms Report
(AR. 238-243). Sorrells reported her typical day included taking care of her children and
completing housework, such as grocery shopping, laundry, and cooking (AR. 238-239).
Sorrells’ reported chores or any activity decreased her blood sugar level and made her
tired (AR. 238-243). Sorrells sleeps about eight to nine hours a night and does not take
naps (AR. 239). Sorrells reported she could climb a flight of stairs and had no problems
sitting (AR. 239).
Sorrells described her symptoms as tired, dizzy, confused,
disoriented, shaky, and sad (AR. 240). Sorrells’ noted her symptoms were “out of
control” and located “everywhere” (AR. 240). Sorrells also reported she had a seizure
on November 21, 2009, but had not experienced another seizure and was not on any
seizure medication (AR. 244-246).
Also on March 18, 2010, Vicki L. Dugger (Ms.
Dugger), Sorrells’ mother, completed a Third Party Function Report and Statement (AR.
248-253, 261-266). Ms. Dugger generally reported that Sorrells is unable to work and is
permanently disabled with diabetes (AR. 248-253, 261-266).
On April 7, 2010, Lisa Jones, Ph.D. (Dr. Jones), completed a consultative mental
examination (AR. 487-493). Sorrells reported she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997
and takes several shots of insulin each day (AR. 489). Sorrells also reported kidney
and eye problems due to her diabetes (AR. 489).
Sorrells reported problems with
anxiety, panic attacks, and depression (AR. 489-490). Dr. Jones noted Sorrells did not
report any other medical history (AR. 489). Sorrells told Dr. Jones she worked part-time
at Timesaver, a gas station, for six hour shifts, two days a week (AR. 489). Sorrells
previously worked at Wells Fargo Bank, First National Bank, and Shopko (AR. 489).
Sorrells stated she quit working at Shopko because of her pregnancy (AR. 489).
Dr. Jones observed Sorrells appeared well-oriented and alert and had an intense
affect and an angry, irritable, or depressed mood (AR. 492). Sorrells’ recent and remote
memory appeared moderately impaired (AR. 492). Dr. Jones noted Sorrells did not
report any difficulty in terms of maintaining social functioning (AR. 492). Dr. Jones
opined Sorrells has the ability to sustain concentration and attention, to understand and
remember short and simple instructions, to adapt to changes within her environment,
and to relate with coworkers and supervisors (AR. 492). Dr. Jones diagnosed panic
disorder and bipolar II disorder and assigned Sorrells a Global Assessment of
Functioning (GAF)4 score of 505 (AR. 493).
In a form completed as part of her evaluation, Dr. Jones indicated Sorrells was
restricted in terms of daily activities, and experienced recurrent episodes of deterioration
However, Dr. Jones opined Sorrells did not have difficulties in social
The Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) is a clinician’s judgment of the individual’s overall
level of functioning, not including impairments due to physical or environmental limitations. See American
Psychiatric Ass’n, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 30-32 (4th ed. text rev. 2000)
A GAF score of 41 through 50 is characterized as serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation,
several obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting) or any serious impairment in social, occupational, or
school functioning (e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job). See id. at 32.
functioning and could understand, remember, and carry out short and simple
instructions (AR. 494).
Lee Branham, Ph.D. (Dr. Branham), a state agency psychologist, completed a
Psychiatric Review Technique form (PRT) and Mental Residual Functional Capacity
Assessment (MRFCA) on April 29, 2010 (AR. 499-501). Dr. Branham noted Sorrells
had moderate limitations in understanding and remembering detailed instructions,
carrying out detailed instructions, maintaining attention and concentration for extended
periods, and working in coordination with or in proximity with others without being
distracted (AR. 499). Dr. Branham noted Sorrells was not otherwise significantly limited
in the following categories: understanding and memory, sustained concentration and
persistence, social interaction, and adaptation (AR. 499-501).
In the PRT, Dr. Branham opined Sorrells was moderately limited in activities of
daily living and in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace and mildly limited in
social functioning (AR. 504-514).
Dr. Branham noted Sorrells alleged depression,
although Dr. Branham opined there was not strong enough evidence to support a clear
diagnosis (AR. 516). Dr. Branham noted Sorrells suffered from anxiety, although she
was able to handle the interview without excessive anxiety (AR. 516). Dr. Branham
concluded evidence did not show that anxiety or depression would prevent Sorrells from
working (AR. 516).
Patricia Newman, Ph.D. (Dr. Newman), a state agency
psychologist, reviewed Sorrells’ record and affirmed Dr. Branham’s April 29, 2010,
assessment (AR. 622).
On May 14, 2010, Jerry Reed, M.D. (Dr. Reed), a state agency physician,
conducted a physical residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment of Sorrells based
on the medical record (AR. 519-527). Dr. Reed noted Sorrells’ primary diagnosis was
diabetes mellitus with a secondary diagnosis of seizures (AR. 519).
determined Sorrells could lift less than ten pounds frequently and ten pounds
occasionally, could stand at least two hours in an eight-hour work day, could sit for
about six hours in an eight-hour work day, and could push and pull with no limitations
(AR. 520). Dr. Reed also noted Sorrells could never climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds (AR. 521). Dr. Reed concluded Sorrells did not have manipulative, visual,
or communicative limitations (AR. 522-523). Dr. Reed opined Sorrells should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat and humidity and avoid hazards such as
machinery and heights (AR. 523). Dr. Reed concluded Sorrells had a severe condition,
but should be able to work (AR. 526). A second agency physician, Gerald Spethman,
M.D. (Dr. Spethman), affirmed Dr. Reed’s assessment (AR. 624).
Sorrells underwent a pre-treatment psychological assessment with Brad Bigelow,
Ph.D. (Dr. Bigelow), on October 13, 2010 (AR. 625-29, 677). Sorrells had a relatively
bright affect, normal speech and thought content, fair judgment and insight, adequate
attention and concentration, grossly intact memory, and adequate impulse control (AR.
625). Dr. Bigelow noted Sorrells suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and diabetes
mellitus (AR. 628).
Dr. Bigelow assigned Sorrells a GAF score of 606 and
recommended Sorrells seek counseling (AR. 628-629).
On November 9, 2010, Sorrells went to Midland with complaints of diabetes and
anxiety (AR. 634). The examiner noted Sorrells needed to take her children to daycare
when Sorrells became anxious, angry, and out of control to allow Sorrells to work on her
anxiety (AR. 634).
On November 12, 2010, Ms. Dailey completed an “incapacity
statement” for Sorrells (AR. 635).
Ms. Dailey stated Sorrells has severe and
uncontrollable diabetes, anxiety, and depression (AR. 635). Ms. Dailey noted Sorrells
has been diagnosed with diabetes since Sorrells was thirteen and her anxiety has
increased since having children (AR. 635). Ms. Dailey further noted Sorrells’ low blood
sugar, anxiety, and depression incapacitate Sorrells and prevent her from doing
activities of daily living and taking care of her children (AR. 635).
On December 28, 2010, Sorrells began attending counseling with S. Kalana
Hylton-Creek (Ms. Hylton-Creek) (AR. 668-688). Sorrells continued to see Ms. HyltonCreek into July 2011 (AR. 668-688). During treatment, Ms. Hylton-Creek and Sorrells
discussed Sorrells’ diabetes, eating disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder
(OCD), daily activities, and other issues (AR. 668-688). Ms. Hylton-Creek had Sorrells
complete tasks and workbooks to help Sorrells cope with her issues (AR. 668-688). On
a June 14, 2011, appointment, Ms. Hylton-Creek noted Sorrells suffered from bulimia
(AR. 683). Sorrells reported her medications were effective, but she did not always take
A GAF score of 51 through 60 is characterized as moderate symptoms (e.g., flat affect and
circumstantial speech, occasional panic attacks) or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school
functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or coworkers). See id. at 32.
the recommended dosages of medicine (AR. 668-688). Sorrells informed she had a
boyfriend, goes to the gym, and volunteers at “Kids Klub” to observe childcare workers
and practice her own childcare skills (AR. 672-673, 684). Sorrells also informed Ms.
Hylton-Creek that Sorrells went on a family vacation (AR. 688).
On February 2, 2011, Sorrells returned to Midland to report dizziness and nausea
(AR. 639). An examiner suspected seizures, but planned to wait for input from Dr. Shah
(AR. 639). The examiner noted Sorrells’ “blood sugars are running great” (AR. 639).
Sorrells saw Dr. Shah on February 3, 2011 (AR. 648). Dr. Shah noted she had
not seen Sorrells for about one year (AR. 648). Sorrells reported dizziness, tiredness,
and confusion (AR. 648). Sorrells reported she had no seizures over the last year,
although she may have had a seizure in her sleep (AR. 648).
During Dr. Shah’s
examination, Sorrells was alert and oriented, with no impairment in recent or remote
memory, normal attention and concentration, normal cranial nerves, full strength, and a
normal gait (AR. 649-650). Dr. Shah ordered an updated EEG test, which did not show
epileptiform activity (AR. 632, 650).
During a follow-up appointment with Dr. Shah on February 8, 2011, Sorrells said
she was satisfied with treatment, her constant dizziness had gone away, and she felt
much better than she had in the past (AR. 651). Sorrells reported further improvement
during a March 29, 2011, appointment (AR. 655-656). On June 13, 2011, Sorrells went
to Midland for depression treatment and reported no success with medication (AR. 694).
An examiner prescribed a new mood medication (AR. 694). Sorrells met with Dr. Shah
again on June 15, 2011 (AR. 690-693).
Sorrells reported she was satisfied with
treatment, although her dizziness continued (AR. 690). Dr. Shah gave Sorrells “pointers
on remembering how not to forget medicines” (AR. 693).
On June 13 and 23, 2011, Sorrells returned to Midland and reported issues with
depression and medication (AR. 694-695).
An examiner prescribed a different
medication and Sorrells reported doing “pretty well” overall on June 27, 2011 (AR. 694696). On July 16, 2011, Sorrells went to Midland and reported continued dizziness (AR.
697). The examiner scheduled Sorrells for an MRI (AR. 697).
Sorrells testified she was twenty-seven years old, 5’ 9.5”, and 179 pounds (AR.
35, 46). Sorrells’ highest level of education was the twelfth grade (AR. 35, 47). Sorrells
was previously married but divorced in January 2011 (AR. 47). She has two children,
ages two and five, who live with her (AR. 35-36, 47). Sorrells is the primary caregiver
for her children (AR. 40).
Sorrells stated some days she lays on the couch all day but other days her
“mania will take over and all [she] does is clean” (AR. 41). On a day when Sorrells feels
average, she will wake up and take her children to daycare at 10:30 a.m. (AR. 41).
After she takes the children to daycare, Sorrells will do the dishes or do whatever needs
to be done around the house (AR. 41). Sorrells cooks, drives, goes shopping at the
grocery store, and does the laundry (AR. 42). Sorrells will then take a nap (AR. 41).
After the nap, Sorrells prepares dinner, retrieves her children from daycare, makes
dinner, bathes her children, and get her children down for bedtime at 8:30 p.m. (AR. 4142). Sorrells does not play with her children because of her dizziness (AR. 41). Sorrells
has trouble cooking because she has “an OCD about sweating” from the stove heat
(AR. 57). Sometimes Sorrells has to drink juice while cooking to keep her blood levels
high (AR. 57).
Sometimes Sorrells will go days without showering because she does not have
the energy to shower (AR. 53). If Sorrells takes a bath, she has to call her mother
because Sorrells might have a seizure (AR. 57). Sorrells has problems sleeping and
has not had a normal sleep cycle for years (AR. 57-58). Sorrells might sleep all day and
night because of her mental health issues of depression and mania (AR. 58).
Sorrells sometimes falls over when she is standing still and does not do a lot of
walking; however, Sorrells can walk for about twenty minutes and walk around a track
twice and still feel comfortable (AR. 43-45). Sorrells can stand for two hours before her
kidneys and feet start hurting (AR. 45). After standing for two hours, Sorrells’ legs
become sore and she experiences back pain (AR. 51) Sorrells attempts to work out at
home but has issues with dizziness (AR. 43). Sorrells can sit fifteen to twenty minutes
before she has to stand (AR. 45). Sorrells can lift approximately twenty pounds (AR.
Sorrells was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes in 1999 (AR. 37). As
treatment, Sorrells uses an insulin pump because she forgets to take her insulin shots
(AR. 37). Sorrells admitted her diabetes was not well controlled (AR. 37-38). Sorrells
stated she has been more focused on addressing her mental health issues of
depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and seizures because those issues have been
worse (AR. 37-38). Sorrells has only experienced one grand mal seizure (AR. 38-39,
50). However, Sorrells experiences dizziness every day and there are no warning signs
before Sorrells becomes dizzy (AR. 50). In 2011, Sorrells reported to her neurologist
her dizziness subsided while taking Trileptal (AR. 39).
Sorrells testified she
experienced a grand mal seizure in November 2009 (AR. 50). Sorrells believes she has
one to two seizures a week where she “blank[s] out” (AR. 49-50). Sorrells’ testified her
EEGs are abnormal with some swelling in her right temporal lobe, however there is no
indication of epilepsy (AR. 40). Sorrells sometimes agrees with her neurologist that her
seizures and dizziness result from her anxiety (AR. 42-43).
Sorrells testified she
believes her doctors are starting to get overwhelmed with her complications and visits
Sorrells stated she suffers from PTSD, which was diagnosed when Sorrells was
a teenager (AR. 53). Sorrells testified she has a history of self-mutilation but gets
tattoos now to deal with those thoughts in a healthier way (AR. 59). Sorrells did burn
herself three months prior to the hearing because the physical pain of the burn is easier
to handle than the emotional pain (AR. 59-60).
Sorrells’ primary treating physician is Dr. Sita7 and doctors at Midland (AR. 56).
During Sorrells’ doctor appointment with Dr. Jones in 2010, Sorrells did not tell Dr.
Jones about Sorrells’ eating disorder because she only recently realized she had a
problem (AR. 52).
Sorrells testified since seeing Dr. Jones in April 2010, Sorrells’
anxiety and panic attacks have worsened (AR. 53).
Sorrells occasionally sees a
therapist, who she originally saw in 2008 for marriage counseling, to help Sorrells
improve her health (AR. 52). Sorrells believes her appointments with her therapist have
helped (AR. 58-59).
Sorrells’ medical records do not contain records of a Dr. Sita.
Sorrells takes Trileptal, Humalog, Xanax, and Respiradol (AR. 42, 55-56).
Sorrells testified the Respiradol makes her woozy, Humalog decreases her blood sugar,
and Xanax makes her sleepy (AR. 45-46). Sorrells stated the medications are definitely
helping and she does not get nauseous or vomit while on the medications (AR. 42).
At the time of the hearing Sorrells was not working, however three to four months
prior, she tried to go back to work as a cashier at Timesaver, a gas station, where she
worked periodically in between medical leaves of absence since 2009 (AR. 36, 47-48).
Sorrells would work six-hour shifts two days a week at Timesaver (AR. 36). Sorrells
testified she is unable to work full-time because her diabetes is “very, very difficult to
deal with” (AR. 36-37, 48). Sorrells would start a normal workday with her blood sugar
level at 300-400 and end the workday at 50 (AR. 37). Sorrells would fight through the
low blood sugar level but she would get to the point where all she could do is lay on the
couch (AR. 37). Sorrells testified she worked at First National Bank for eight months in
2007 but was fired due to sickness and a weak immune system (AR. 54). Sorrells also
worked at Shopko but quit that job due to pregnancy (AR. 46). Sorrells testified she
mentally cannot function without working; however, Sorrells does not believe she could
return to past work with her current conditions (AR. 54-55).
approximately $1000 in the first quarter of 2010, approximately $1800 in the second
quarter of 2010, and approximately $800 in the third quarter of 2010 (AR. 36).
Sorrells testified when her blood sugar was low at work she would become very
ill, moody, and lash out at customers and coworkers (AR. 48). Sorrells would also
cancel doctor’s appointments because she would have to sleep after work (AR. 48-49).
Sorrells testified she “really just [has] a problem with people in general, the human race
bothers [her]” (AR. 54).
Sorrells testified although she is supposed to check her blood sugar level six
times a day, she does not monitor her blood sugar (AR. 49). Within the five days prior
to the hearing, Sorrells testified she checked her blood sugar level once (AR. 49).
Sorrells does not monitor her blood sugar regularly because she loses the meter to
measure blood sugar or she does not remember to check her blood sugar (AR. 49).
Sorrells testified “[w]hen [she] work[s], [she] really [has] a hard time even remembering
to take [her] blood sugar” (AR. 37). Sorrells wore her insulin pump at the time of the
hearing, however she will “get sick of it being attached to [her] body . . . [and will] take it
off” (AR. 51). Additionally, Sorrells will forget to put the insulin pump on after she
showers (AR. 51).
Jennifer Tashira, a vocational expert (VE), testified in response to the ALJ’s
hypothetical questions outlining Sorrells’ age, education, and work experience (AR. 6265). The ALJ limited hypothetical individual number one to performing light exertional
level work with occasional climbing of stairs and ramps but not ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds (AR. 63). Additionally, the individual would have to work in a temperaturecontrolled environment and avoid concentrated exposures, unprotected heights, and
hazardous machinery (AR. 63). Further, the individual is limited to unskilled work which
requires no more than occasional contact with the public and coworkers (AR. 63). The
VE testified individual one could not perform past relevant work (AR. 63). However, the
VE testified individual one could work in the national and regional economy (AR. 63).
Specifically, individual one could function as a mail clerk, housekeeper, and electrical
assembler (AR. 63-64).
The VE testified there are 1310 jobs as a mail clerk in
Nebraska and 138,990 jobs in the United States; 1670 jobs as a housekeeper in
Nebraska and 915,890 jobs in the United States; and 1300 jobs as an electrical
assembler in Nebraska and 216,470 jobs in the United States (AR. 63-64).
The ALJ limited hypothetical individual number two to performing sedentary
exertional level work with the limitation that individual two could never climb stairs,
ramps, ropes, ladders, or scaffolds (AR. 64). Additionally, the individual would have to
work in a temperature-controlled environment and avoid concentrated exposures,
unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery (AR. 64).
Further, the individual is
limited to unskilled work that requires no more than occasional contact with the public
and coworkers (AR. 64). The VE testified individual two could work in the national and
regional economy as a stem mounter, stuffer, and eyeglass polisher (AR. 64). The VE
testified there are 1300 jobs as a stem mounter in Nebraska and 216,470 jobs in the
United States; 3340 jobs as a stuffer in Nebraska and 368,320 jobs in the United States;
and 840 jobs as an eyeglass polisher in Nebraska and 239,550 jobs in the United
States (AR. 64)
The ALJ limited hypothetical individual number three to the same limitations as
individual two with the added limitation that any job must allow for occasional,
unscheduled disruptions of the work day secondary to the necessity to lie down for
extended periods of time (AR. 64-65). The VE testified there was no work for individual
three in the economy (AR. 64). The VE testified the information provided is consistent
with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) (AR. 64).
Sorrells’ attorney asked the VE whether an individual who is physically and
psychologically limited to two days of work per week could be gainfully employed (AR.
The VE testified such an individual would be unable to maintain competitive
employment (AR. 65).
THE ALJ’S DECISION
The ALJ concluded Sorrells was not disabled under the Act (AR. 11-23). The
ALJ framed the issue as whether Sorrells was disabled under sections 216(i), 223, and
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act (AR. 10). The ALJ defined disability as the inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in
death or last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months (AR. 10). See 42
U.S.C. § 423; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.
The ALJ must evaluate a disability claim according to the sequential five-step
analysis established by the Social Security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(f); Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 701 (8th Cir. 2012).
To determine disability, the ALJ follows the familiar five-step
process, considering whether: (1) the claimant was
employed; (2) she was severely impaired; (3) her impairment
was, or was comparable to, a listed impairment; (4) she
could perform past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether she
could perform any other kind of work.
Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010). More specifically, the ALJ
[A]ny current work activity, the severity of the claimant’s
impairments, the claimant’s residual functional capacity and
age, education and work experience. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a). If the claimant suffers from an impairment that
is included in the listing of presumptively disabling
impairments (the Listings), or suffers from an impairment
equal to such listed impairment, the claimant will be
determined disabled without considering age, education, or
If the Commissioner finds that the
claimant does not meet the Listings but is nevertheless
unable to perform his or her past work, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to prove, first, that the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity to perform other kinds
of work, and, second, that other such work exists in
substantial numbers in the national economy. A claimant’s
residual functional capacity is a medical question.
Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted). “If a
claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the evaluation of a disability, the process
ends and the claimant is determined to be not disabled.” Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d
575, 577 (8th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); see Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533, 536
(8th Cir. 2010).
In this case, the ALJ followed the appropriate sequential analysis. At step one,
the ALJ noted although Sorrells worked after January 1, 2008, her amended alleged
onset date, Sorrells’ work activity did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity
At step two, the ALJ determined Sorrells had the following severe
impairments as defined by Social Security regulations:
“insulin dependent diabetes
mellitus, obesity, history of seizure disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD), depression and anxiety” (AR. 13). The ALJ determined the above
mentioned severe impairments cause significant limitations on Sorrells’ ability to do
basic work related activities (AR. 13). The ALJ concluded Sorrells does not have a
medically determinable impairment for bulimia (AR. 13). The ALJ noted an impairment
is not medically determinable unless it is diagnosed or established by an acceptable
medical source (AR. 13). See 20 CFR 404.1513(a), 416.913(a). The ALJ determined
Ms. Hylton-Creek, Sorrells’ therapist, is not an acceptable medical source under the
regulations (AR. 13).
Further, the ALJ concluded Sorrells did not report similar
symptoms of binging and purging to her neurologist, endocrinologist, or treating family
physician (AR. 13).
At the third step, the ALJ determined Sorrells does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 419.926) (AR. 13). The ALJ concluded
Sorrells’ impairments do not cause two marked limitations or one marked limitation and
repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration (AR. 13-14).
noted Sorrells’ mental impairments result in no limitation in activities of daily living (AR.
14). The ALJ determined Sorrells has moderate difficulties in social functioning and
concentration, persistence, or pace (AR. 14). Before proceeding to step four of the
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined Sorrells’ ability to perform workrelated functions, or RFC, is limited to the following:
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) in that [Sorrells] is able to lift and carry twenty
pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. [Sorrells] is
able to stand and walk for six hours of an eight-hour day and
sit for six hours of an eight-hour day. [Sorrells] can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but she may never
climb ropes, scaffolds, or ladders. Furthermore, she must
avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and
[Sorrells] must also work in a
temperature-controlled environment. Mentally, [Sorrells] is
limited to unskilled work only, which requires no more than
occasional contact with the general public and coworkers.
The ALJ found Sorrells’ medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause Sorrells’ alleged symptoms; however, the ALJ found Sorrells’
statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of such symptoms
were not credible (AR. 16). The ALJ determined Sorrells’ compliance with her diabetic
regimen has been substandard (AR. 16-17). The ALJ noted Sorrells forgot to put her
insulin pump on after showering and did not regularly monitor her blood sugar level as
directed by physicians (AR. 16). The ALJ further noted Sorrells’ medical records show
a repeated history of medical non-compliance with insulin therapy and diabetic dieting
and exercise (AR. 16). The ALJ also noted Sorrells has not seen her endocrinologist
since September 2008, more than two years prior to the hearing before the ALJ (AR.
16). The ALJ found Sorrells’ diabetes resulted in “very few end organ complications”
considering Sorrells’ noncompliance with treatment (AR. 16).
Specifically, the ALJ
noted after Sorrells’ July 16, 2008, appointment where Sorrells’ vision was 20/20 with
some dot and blot hemorrhages and microaneurysms, there were no subsequent
ophthalmological visits or vision complaints (AR. 16).
The ALJ similarly found the
record does not establish any kidney disease or failure or diabetic neuropathy (AR. 16).
The ALJ noted although Sorrells experienced a grand mal seizure on November 21,
2009, doctors indicated Sorrells was noncompliant with her diabetes management (AR.
17). The ALJ noted Dr. Shah concluded Sorrells’ loss of consciousness was likely
attributed to hypotension and blood sugar volatility secondary to Sorrells’ poor control of
her diabetes (AR. 17). The ALJ noted Sorrells’ examination after her seizure was
normal and a CT scan, MRI, and EEG were unable to confirm epileptiform activity (AR.
17). The ALJ also considered Dr. Shah’s finding that Sorrells had an unremarkable
physical and neurological examination (AR. 17).
The ALJ stated Sorrells received virtually no treatment between November 2008
and November 2009 for any of her conditions (AR. 17). Sorrells did not have regular
follow-up appointments with her endocrinologist and went nearly a year between visits
to her neurologist (AR. 17). The ALJ noted Sorrells’ significant daily activities of being
the primary care giver for her two children, driving, shopping, and doing the laundry also
eroded Sorrells’ credibility (AR. 17). Sorrells gave inconsistent statements to her work
and doctor as to why she left Shopko and lied to her employers regarding absences
The ALJ concluded Sorrells’ work history reflected negatively on her
credibility (AR. 17-18).
With regard to Sorrells mental impairments, the ALJ concluded the record does
not support allegations of life-long anxiety because Sorrells’ first complaint of anxiety
was in January 2010, nearly two years after her alleged onset date (AR. 18). The ALJ
noted Sorrells maintained a relatively full lifestyle and there are no psychological based
limitations on her activities of daily living (AR. 19-20). The ALJ concluded Sorrells’
mental impairments would cause some limitation but would not preclude all work activity
(AR. 19-20). The ALJ determined, after giving Sorrells the benefit of the doubt, Sorrells
only has moderate limitations on her social functioning and concentration, persistence,
and pace (AR. 20).
The ALJ gave some weight to state agency physicians’ opinions requiring
postural and environmental limitations for Sorrells, but gave little weight to the state
agency physicians’ opinions on Sorrells’ ability to lift, carry, stand, and walk because
Sorrells testified she could lift and carry twenty pounds and stand for two hours at a time
(AR. 18). The ALJ noted Sorrells’ own testimony greatly exceeded the state agency
physicians’ assessments and there are no conflicting opinions from any treating or
examining sources regarding Sorrells’ physical capabilities (AR. 18).
The ALJ gave no weight to Ms. Dailey’s opinion that Sorrells is unable to care for
Sorrells’ children due to increased anxiety, depression, and uncontrolled blood sugar
(AR. 18). The ALJ noted the record does not indicate Ms. Dailey’s qualifications and
there are no objective findings based on examination to support Ms. Dailey’s
assessment (AR. 18).
The ALJ gave significant weight to the opinions of the state agency psychologists
Drs. Branham and Newman, which are supported by Dr. Bigelow’s mental status
examination and progress notes from treating therapists and physicians (AR. 21). The
ALJ gave less weight to portions of Dr. Jones’ opinion as there is no evidence Sorrells’
psychological impairments restricted her activities of daily living or evidence of recurrent
episodes of deterioration (AR. 21). However, the ALJ gave weight to Dr. Jones’ overall
conclusion that Sorrells could perform and carry out simple instructions and relate
appropriately to coworkers and supervisors (AR. 21).
The ALJ gave no special
significance to Sorrells’ mother’s third party function report because the ALJ found the
report was based on Sorrells’ subjective allegations which were not fully credible (AR.
At step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined Sorrells is
unable to perform her past relevant work as a service banker and a cashier (AR. 21).
The ALJ noted Sorrells was twenty-three years old on the alleged disability onset date,
which qualifies Sorrells as a younger individual under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563 (AR. 21).
The ALJ noted Sorrells has at least a high school education and is able to communicate
in English (AR. 21).
At the final step in the process, the ALJ determined jobs exist in significant
numbers in the national economy which Sorrells can perform (AR. 22). The ALJ relied
upon the VE’s testimony finding a person of Sorrells’ age, education, work experience,
and RFC could perform light, unskilled work as a mail clerk, housekeeper, and electrical
assembler (AR. 22). The ALJ determined because Sorrells could perform unskilled light
labor, Sorrells was not disabled (AR. 22).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court is authorized jurisdiction to review a decision to deny disability
benefits according to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court is to affirm the Commissioner’s
findings if “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.” Young v.
Astrue, 702 F.3d 489, 491 (8th Cir. 2013). Substantial evidence is defined as less than
a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to
support a decision. See Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010); see also
Minor v. Astrue, 574 F.3d 625, 627 (8th Cir. 2009) (noting “the ‘substantial evidence on
the record as a whole’ standard requires a more rigorous review of the record than does
the ‘substantial evidence’ standard”). “If substantial evidence supports the decision,
then [the court] may not reverse, even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from
the evidence, and even if [the court] may have reached a different outcome.”
McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010). “[I]t is the court’s duty to
review the disability benefit decision to determine if it is based on legal error.” Nettles
v. Schweiker, 714 F.2d 833, 835-36 (8th Cir. 1983). The court reviews questions of
law de novo. See Miles v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 694, 698 (8th Cir. 2004). Findings of
fact are considered conclusive if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole. See Nettles, 714 F.2d at 835; Renfrow v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 918, 920 (8th Cir.
Furthermore, “[the court] defer[s] to the ALJ’s determinations regarding the
credibility of testimony, so long as they are supported by good reasons and substantial
evidence.” Pelkey, 433 F.3d at 578 (quoting Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798,
801 (8th Cir. 2005)).
Ms. Hylton-Creek’s and Ms. Dailey’s Opinions
Sorrells argues “[t]he ALJ discounted the diagnosis of bulemia [sic] by the
therapist who advertises in the telephone book as a Licensed Independent Mental
Health Practitioner because therapists are not acceptable medical sources. Ignoring
the evidence of the Mental Health Practitioner is contrary to law.” See Filing No. 16 Brief p. 5. Sorrells also appears to argue the ALJ did not properly weigh Ms. Dailey’s
Incapacity Statement for Sorrells. Id. p. 4.
The SSA recognizes two types of sources for evidence that may be used as
evidence of an impairment or the severity of an impairment:
sources” and “other sources.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513.
Therapists and nurse-
practitioners are listed under “other sources” and are not considered “acceptable
medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d)(1); see also Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d
881, 885-86 (8th Cir. 2006).
An “other source” opinion may be used to show the
severity of an impairment and how it affects the individual’s ability to function, but may
not be used to establish an impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d); SSR 06-3p.
However, “[i]n determining what weight to give ‘other medical evidence,’ the ALJ has
more discretion and is permitted to consider any inconsistencies found within the
record.” Raney v. Barnhart, 396 F.3d 1007, 1010 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
Ms. Hylton-Creek, a therapist, and Ms. Dailey do not qualify as acceptable
medical sources, nor do their opinions constitute medical opinions under the
regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(a)(2) (defining medical opinions as “statements
from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources”). The ALJ
correctly considered Ms. Hylton-Creek to be an “other source” rather than an acceptable
medical source. As such, the ALJ was required to consider Ms. Hylton-Creek’s opinion
when evaluating the severity of Sorrells’ impairments and the effect her impairments
have on her ability to work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513; see also Social Security Ruling
06-03p, Titles II and XVI: Considering Opinions and Other Evidence From Sources
Who Are Not “Acceptable Medical Sources” in Disability Claims; Considering Decisions
on Disability by Other Governmental and Nongovernmental Agencies, 71 FR 45593-03
(August 9, 2006). While the ALJ was required to consider Ms. Hylton-Creek’s opinion,
the ALJ was not required to accept the opinion or assign it great weight. Lacroix v.
Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 887 (8th Cir. 2006). The ALJ has the discretion to reject or
discredit Ms. Hylton-Creek’s and Ms. Dailey’s opinions if they are inconsistent with other
evidence in the record. See id.
The ALJ explained he disregarded Ms. Hylton-Creek’s diagnoses of bulimia
because she is not an acceptable medical source. The ALJ noted Sorrells did not
report similar symptoms of bulimia to her neurologist, endocrinologist, or treating family
physician. Additionally, the ALJ explained Ms. Dailey is not indicated as a licensed
physician, psychologist, or other acceptable medical source, but appears to be a staff
member at Midland, therefore Ms. Dailey’s Incapacity Statement is not entitled to great
weight. The ALJ noted there were no objective findings or clinical findings to support
Ms. Dailey’s Incapacity Statement. The ALJ properly gave no weight to Ms. Dailey’s
Incapacity Statement considering Ms. Dailey was not qualified as an acceptable medical
source and the statement appeared to be based on Sorrells’ subjective complaints
rather than objective findings. See Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir.
2012) (holding an ALJ may give less weight to an opinion because it appeared to be
based on the claimant’s subjective complaints).
Nevertheless, although neither Ms.
Hylton-Creek nor Ms. Dailey are acceptable medical sources, the ALJ did not ignore
their treatment notes but instead considered such notes in formulating Sorrells’ RFC.
Sorrells’ brief mostly contains quotes from Shontos v. Barnhart, 328 F.3d 418
(8th Cir. 2003), presumably for the proposition that Ms. Hylton-Creek’s and Ms. Dailey’s
opinions should be given greater weight.
In Shontos, the Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals determined a nurse practitioner and a counselor were not acceptable medical
sources. Shontos, 328 F.3d at 425-27. However, the court considered the nurse
practitioner and counselor as treating sources whose opinions were entitled to greater
weight because they worked as part of a treatment team that included a psychologist
whose participation in Shontos’ care gave the entire treatment team treating-source
status. See id. Sorrells’ case is distinguishable from Shontos because there is no
indication Ms. Hylton-Creek or Ms. Dailey worked as part of a treatment team with an
acceptable medical source while treating Sorrells.
See Lacroix, 465 F.3d at 886
(distinguishing Shontos on the same grounds); Tindell v. Barnhart, 444 F.3d 1002,
1005 (8th Cir. 2006) (distinguishing Shontos and holding the opinions of a therapist
who was not “associated with a physician, psychologist, or other acceptable medical
source that could potentially give him treating source status” were not entitled to greater
The court finds the ALJ properly discounted Ms. Hylton-Creek’s diagnosis of
bulimia and Ms. Dailey’s Incapacity Statement for the reasons Ms. Hylton-Creek and
Ms. Dailey are not acceptable medical sources and those stated in the ALJ’s opinion.
The ALJ’s RFC Determination
Sorrells argues “[t]he major issue in this case is that nontreating, nonexamining
medical consultant opinions are relied on by the AL[J] in forming an opinion as to
claimant’[s] residual functional capacity.” See Filing No. 16 - Brief p. 6. Sorrells argues
the ALJ should have given greater weight to opinions from treating sources. Id. at 7.
There must be substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support the
ALJ’s RFC determination. See Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 841 (8th Cir. 2009).
Substantial evidence is relevant evidence a reasonable mind would accept as adequate
to support a decision.
It is the claimant’s burden, rather than the
Commissioner’s, to prove the claimant’s RFC. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th
Cir. 2010). RFC is the most the claimant can still do despite physical and mental
limitations based on the evidence in the case record. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
The claimant is responsible for providing evidence to establish the RFC. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a)(3). Even so, the ALJ is responsible for developing the complete medical
history. Id. The ALJ’s determination of a claimant’s RFC “must be supported by some
medical evidence of the claimant’s ability to function in the workplace.”
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009). An ALJ may rely upon opinions from nonexamining sources as long as the opinions were not the only basis for the ALJ’s RFC
finding. See Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 2006) (holding the ALJ’s
RFC assessment was supported by substantial evidence, including the opinions from
In addition to the relevant medical evidence, the ALJ bases the RFC assessment
on the relevant non-medical evidence including: statements and observations provided
by the claimant and claimant’s family, friends, or other persons.
See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(3). When considering the claimant’s subjective complaints of pain, the ALJ
evaluates: “1) the claimant’s daily activities, 2) the duration, frequency and intensity of
pain, 3) precipitating and aggravating factors, 4) the dosage, effectiveness and side
effects of any medication, and 5) functional restrictions.” Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d
611, 615 (8th Cir. 2011). When there are inconsistencies in the claimant’s testimony,
the ALJ may properly discount part of the testimony.
Similarly, the ALJ may
discount conclusions from a medical expert or treating physician if the conclusions are
inconsistent with the record as a whole. Id. at 615-16. Evidence which both supports
and detracts from the decision is considered when determining whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s decision. Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir.
“State agency medical . . . consultants . . . are highly qualified physicians . . . who
are also experts in Social Security disability evaluation.
Therefore, [ALJs] must
consider findings and other opinions of State agency medical . . . consultants . . . as
opinion evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(f)(2)(i). While “there are circumstances in
which relying on a non-treating physician’s opinion is proper[,]” generally, “opinions of
non-treating practitioners who have attempted to evaluate the claimant without
examination do not normally constitute substantial evidence on the record as a whole.”
Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1016 (8th Cir. 2010). An ALJ does not err by
considering the opinion of a state agency medical consultant along with the medical
evidence as a whole. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 694 (8th Cir. 2007).
As previously explained, the ALJ properly gave no weight to Ms. Dailey’s
Incapacity Statement and properly discounted Ms. Hylton-Creek’s diagnosis of bulimia.
Sorrells does not identify other opinions the ALJ should have considered with greater
weight. Sorrells also does not explain what limitations the ALJ failed to include in the
RFC determination. Nevertheless, the court will review the ALJ’s RFC determination.
In formulating Sorrells’ RFC, the ALJ accounted for Sorrells’ symptoms and the
extent her symptoms could reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective
medical evidence, opinion evidence, and other evidence.
To account for Sorrells’
seizure history, diabetes, and dizziness the ALJ found Sorrells could occasionally climb
stairs and ramps but could not climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, must work in a
unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery.
See AR. 15, 18, 63.
Sorrells “the benefit of the doubt” the ALJ accounted for Sorrells’ mental limitations by
limiting her to unskilled work with no more than occasional contact with the general
public and coworkers. See AR. 15, 18-20. The ALJ found Sorrells could lift and carry
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and walk for six hours in
an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday based on Sorrells’
own testimony. See AR. 15, 18.
Although the ALJ considered some of Sorrells’ testimony and subjective
complaints, the ALJ found Sorrells’ statements concerning the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of her symptoms only partially credible. See AR. 16-21. The ALJ
noted Sorrells reported improvement while on medication; however Sorrells had a
chronic history of noncompliance with her diabetic regimen. See id. Specifically, the
ALJ noted numerous instances where medical personnel noted Sorrells’ lack of
compliance. See id. The ALJ also noted Sorrells testified she is noncompliant with her
medications and treatment. See id.
The ALJ gave some weight to the opinions of Drs. Reed and Spethman, state
See AR 18.
However, the ALJ found their opinions regarding
Sorrells’ ability to lift, stand, and walk were not supported by the record and Sorrells’
The ALJ gave significant weight to the opinions of Drs.
Branham and Newman, state agency psychologists. See AR. 21. The ALJ noted Drs.
Branham and Newman’s opinions are consistent with Dr. Bigelow’s examination, Ms.
Hylton-Creek’s progress notes, and progress notes from Midland. See id. The ALJ
gave less weight to Dr. Jones’ opinions but did consider Dr. Jones’ overall conclusion
that Sorrells could perform and carry out simple instructions and relate appropriately to
coworkers and supervisors. See id.
The ALJ fully and properly evaluated the evidence in the record when
determining Sorrells’ RFC. The ALJ properly relied on opinions from non-treating and
non-examining medical consultants, opinions from examining physicians, and treatment
notes from examining doctors and therapists. The record supports the ALJ’s decision to
rely on state agency consultants’ opinions to the extent the opinions consistent with the
record as a whole.
Therefore, the court finds that, having properly considered the
evidence in the record, sufficient evidence supports the ALJ’s findings with respect to
For the reasons stated herein, the court concludes the ALJ’s decision, which
represents the final decision of the Commissioner of the SSA, is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should not be reversed or remanded.
Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
IT IS ORDERED:
The Commissioner’s decision is affirmed, the appeal is denied, and judgment in
favor of the defendant will be entered in a separate document.
Dated this 28th day of August, 2013.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Thomas D. Thalken
United States Magistrate Judge
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