Adcock v. Social Security Administration
OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Kimberly E. West affirming the decision of the ALJ.(sjr, Chambers)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
SUSY K. ADCOCK,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social
Case No. CIV-16-218-KEW
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Susy K. Adcock (the “Claimant”) requests judicial
review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Claimant’s application
for disability benefits under the Social Security Act.
appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and
asserts that the Commissioner erred because the ALJ incorrectly
Commissioner’s decision should be and is AFFIRMED.
Social Security Law and Standard of Review
Disability under the Social Security Act is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason
of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment. . .”
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
A claimant is disabled under the Social
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
Social Security regulations implement a five-step
sequential process to evaluate a disability claim.
See, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920.1
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s determination is limited
in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
This Court’s review is limited to
first, whether the decision was supported by
Step one requires the claimant to establish that he is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1510, 416.910. Step two requires that the claimant establish that
he has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limit his ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1521, 416.921. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (step one) or if the claimant’s impairment is not medically
severe (step two), disability benefits are denied. At step three, the
claimant’s impairment is compared with certain impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. A claimant suffering from a listed
impairment or impairments “medically equivalent” to a listed impairment
is determined to be disabled without further inquiry.
If not, the
evaluation proceeds to step four, where claimant must establish that he
does not retain the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his
past relevant work.
If the claimant’s step four burden is met, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish at step five that work
exists in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant
– taking into account his age, education, work experience, and RFC – can
perform. Disability benefits are denied if the Commissioner shows that
the impairment which precluded the performance of past relevant work does
not preclude alternative work. See generally, Williams v. Bowen, 844
F.2d 748, 750-51 (10th Cir. 1988).
standards were applied.
Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164
(10th Cir. 1997)(citation omitted). The term “substantial evidence”
has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to require
“more than a mere scintilla.
It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
court may not re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion
for that of the agency.
Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human
Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the court
must review the record as a whole, and the “substantiality of the
evidence must take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S.
474, 488 (1951); see also, Casias, 933 F.2d at 800-01.
Claimant was 57 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision.
associate’s degree in business.
Claimant has worked in the past as
an office manager, receptionist, bank teller, librarian assistant,
and video store clerk.
Claimant alleges an inability to work
depression, stress, mood disorder, drug addiction, sciatic nerve
pain, disc deterioration, heart disease, high blood pressure,
anxiety, and alcoholism.
On February 4, 2013, Claimant protectively filed for disability
insurance benefits under Title II (42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.) of the
Social Security Act.
Claimant’s application was
and upon reconsideration.
On July 22, 2014, an administrative
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bernard
Porter in McAlester, Oklahoma. By decision dated October 30, 2014,
the ALJ denied Claimant’s request for benefits.
Council denied review on March 28, 2016. As a result, the decision
purposes of further appeal.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Decision of the Administrative Law Judge
The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential
He determined that while Claimant suffered from severe
impairments, she did not meet a listing and retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work.
Errors Alleged for Review
Claimant asserts the ALJ committed error in (1) failing to
properly evaluate the medical source evidence; (2) failing to
perform a proper analysis at step four; and (3) failing to make a
proper credibility determination.
Consideration of the Medical Source Evidence
In his decision, the ALJ found Claimant suffered from the
severe impairments of lumbar disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis, a
history of polysubstance abuse, hypertension, anxiety disorder,
The ALJ determined Claimant retained the RFC
to perform light work except that she could lift/carry 20 pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand for up to six hours,
walk for up to six hours, and sit for up to six hours; could push
and pull as much as she could lift and carry; was limited to
occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; could never climb ladders
and scaffolds; could frequently balance, stoop, and crouch; could
occasionally kneel; and could never crawl. Claimant could not work
around unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. She should
avoid temperature extremes.
Claimant was limited to frequent
interactions with supervisors, co-workers, and the public.
could require time off tasks accommodated by normal breaks.
At step four, the ALJ concluded Claimant retained the RFC to
perform her past relevant work as a bank teller and assistant
librarian after consultation with a vocational expert.
As a result, the ALJ determined Claimant was not disabled from
November 5, 2012 through the date of the decision.
Claimant contends the ALJ failed to properly consider and
evaluate the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Joe Speer.
Dr. Speer completed a mental health medical source statement
pertaining to Claimant’s condition on March 5, 2013.
Claimant suffered from bipolar disorder which imposed more than
minimal limitations on her.
He characterized her condition as
having frequent mood swings, anger, anxiety, and depression.
had an inability to maintain meaningful employment and difficulty
relating to other people.
Dr. Speer described Claimant’s current
functional limitations as
Pt. is unable to hold a job, has had several in past few
years having been terminated or quitting due to mood
Pt. having bouts of [alcohol] use, placed
residentially in treatment 3 mos. ago.
dysfunctional relationship w/her immediate family.
The ALJ concluded that Dr. Speer’s opinion was entitled to
“little weight”, however, because he found the opinion to be
claimant’s activities of daily living and contradicts the other
medical opinion evidence.”
The ALJ recognized that
Claimant sought mental health treatment from Dr. Speer and took
Paxil, Pristiq, Trazodone, and Valium for her mental impairments.
He noted Claimant found the medication to be helpful except for
treating her anxiety.
He also noted she received a GAF
score of 72 before her amended onset date but diminished its impact
on his decision.
The ALJ also cited to Claimant’s activities of daily living.
He stated Claimant could attend AA meetings, attend church, feed
her dogs, do laundry, pay bills, spend thirty minute to an hour on
her computer, visit the doctor, drive about five times per week,
goes to the store, attends her grandson’s sports games, and drove
one hour to get to the hearing to testify.
consultative professionals’ opinions on Claimant’s mental status.
The psychologists, Dr. Ron Cummings and Dr. Diane Hyde, came to
their conclusions after reviewing Claimant’s medical records.
restrictions in activities of daily living, mild difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and one or two
episodes of decompensation of extended duration.
concluded from her review of the records that Claimant’s primary
mental impairment appeared to be alcohol abuse. She found Claimant
responded to treatment for her depression and alcohol.
engaged in various activities of daily living, experiences some
problems with memory, concentration, and anger, as well as some
problems getting along with others.
Dr. Hyde found while Claimant
alleged her symptoms were debilitating, the objective evidence did
not fully support her claim.
She further stated that “[t]he
combination of clinical data and descriptive information suggests
that functional limitations are mildly to moderately impaired.”
She concluded that the medical record did not support
evidence of frequent mood swings, anger, and difficulties relating
Dr. Hyde found Claimant had limitations in understanding and
Claimant’s ability to understand and remember detailed
instructions was “moderately limited”.
She was also found to have
limited” her ability to carry out detailed instructions.
concluded Claimant could perform simple and some complex tasks with
routine supervision, could relate to others, and could adapt to a
Dr. Cummings made the identical findings but added that
Claimant did not allege any new mental impairments or worsening of
any psychologically based symptoms at reconsideration.
treatment notes from Creek Nation Behavioral Health indicated
Claimant was not using alcohol or drugs, her medications were
helpful with no signs of psychosis or mania, fully oriented,
agitated behavior, clear speech, anxious mood, average intellect,
cooperative attitude, good judgment, and logical thought processes.
Claimant was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
Dr. Cummings made the identical findings of limitation as
determined by Dr. Hyde.
After finding these opinions were entitled to “significant
weight” in one portion of the decision, the ALJ then found the
findings of mild restrictions in activities of daily living, mild
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace and
one or two episodes of decompensation were only entitled to “some
Instead, the ALJ determined the record supported a
finding of mild restriction of activities of daily living, mild
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace,
and moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning.
also found no episodes of decompensation “that would rise to the
level required by the ‘paragraph B’ criteria of the Listings.”
This Court has carefully reviewed the records from Dr. Speer
which appear in the record.
On May 14, 2013, Dr. Speer found
Claimant’s mental status to be largely unremarkable other than she
was agitated and anxious.
She was then diagnosed with major
depressive affective disorder, single episode and “other suspected
In deciding how much weight to give the opinion of a treating
physician, an ALJ must first determine whether the opinion is
entitled to “controlling weight.”
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d
1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003). An ALJ is required to give the opinion
of a treating physician controlling weight if it is both: (1) “wellsupported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques”; and (2) “consistent with other substantial evidence in
Id. (quotation omitted).
“[I]f the opinion is
deficient in either of these respects, then it is not entitled to
Even if a treating physician's opinion is not entitled to
controlling weight, “[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.”
Id. (quotation omitted).
factors reference in that section 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
Id. at 1300-01 (quotation omitted). After considering
these factors, the ALJ must “give good reasons” for the weight he
Robinson v. Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1082 (10th Cir. 2004)(citations
Any such findings must be “sufficiently specific to make
clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave
to the treating source’s medical opinions and the reason for that
“Finally, if the ALJ rejects the opinion completely,
he must then give specific, legitimate reasons for doing so.”
Watkins, 350 F.3d at 1301 (quotations omitted).
Dr. Speers’ own treatment records do not support the level of
limitation he urged in his source statement.
Moreover, the level
and nature of Claimant’s activities of daily living contradict Dr.
Speers’ opinion and his restrictions are not supported by the other
medical evidence of record.
As a result, the ALJ did not err in
his assessment of Dr. Speers’ opinion and rejection of further
restrictions in the RFC.
Step Four Analysis
Claimant suggests that the ALJ’s RFC was erroneous because it
supported by the evidence.
This Court has determined that the
ALJ’s RFC was supported by substantial evidence.
Additionally, Claimant contends the ALJ and vocational expert
erred in identifying bank teller and library assistant as past
relevant work when the agency paperwork indicates these jobs were
not past relevant work.
(Tr. 82, 99).
The ALJ analyzed these jobs
and found them to be past relevant work.
entitled to his own analysis rather than adopting that of another.
Moreover, the vocational expert identified these jobs as available
given Claimant’s level of limitation in the RFC.
Claimant also asserts the ALJ failed to perform the necessary
analysis under step four.
In analyzing Claimant’s ability to
engage in her past work, the ALJ must assess three phases.
first phase, the ALJ must first determine the claimant’s RFC.
Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). This Court
has determined that the ALJ’s RFC was supported.
In the second phase, the ALJ must determine the demands of the
claimant’s past relevant work.
In making this determination,
the ALJ may rely upon the testimony of the vocational expert.
Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 761 (10th Cir. 2003).
The ALJ in
identified as being met by the demands of Claimant’s past relevant
The third and final phase requires an analysis as to whether
the claimant has the ability to meet the job demands found in phase
two despite the limitations found in phase one.
Winfrey, 92 F.3d
The ALJ made the necessary findings that Claimant could
meet the job demands of her past relevant work.
result, the ALJ did not err at step four.
Claimant contends the ALJ failed to properly assess her
The ALJ concluded that her statements were “not
entirely credible” in boilerplate language.
However, as related
earlier in this Opinion and Order, Claimant engaged in an array of
activities of daily living that were inconsistent with the level of
limitation to which she testified.
The ALJ also recited the
examination findings which contradicted Claimant’s statements of
Evidence indicated full range of
motion in her spine, normal gait, normal strength and no joint
(Tr. 26, 290, 743, 752, 913).
It is well-established that “findings as to credibility should
be closely and affirmatively linked to substantial evidence and not
just a conclusion in the guise of findings.”
F.3d 387, 391 (10th Cir. 1995).
Kepler v. Chater, 68
“Credibility determinations are
peculiarly in the province of the finder of fact” and, as such,
will not be disturbed when supported by substantial evidence.
Factors to be considered in assessing a claimant’s credibility
include (1) the individual’s daily activities; (2) the location,
duration, frequency, and intensity of the individual’s pain or
other symptoms; (3) factors that precipitate and aggravate the
symptoms; (4) the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of
any medication the individual takes or has taken to alleviate pain
or other symptoms; (5) treatment, other than medication, the
individual receives or has received for relief of pain or other
symptoms; (6) any measures other than treatment the individual uses
or has used to relieve pain or other symptoms (e.g., lying flat on
his or her back, standing for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or
sleeping on a board); and (7) any other factors concerning the
individual's functional limitations and restrictions due to pain or
Soc. Sec. R. 96-7p; 1996 WL 374186, 3.
The ALJ relied upon appropriate factors in evaluating the
credibility of Claimant’s statements.
The nature of Claimant’s
treatment, the objective medical testing, and the inconsistencies
between the claimed restrictions and Claimant’s activities all form
specific and legitimate reasons for the ALJ’s questioning of
The decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial
evidence and the correct legal standards were applied.
this Court finds, in accordance with the fourth sentence of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), the ruling of the Commissioner of Social Security
Administration should be and is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 28th day of September, 2017.
KIMBERLY E. WEST
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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