Geimausaddle v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER. Signed by Magistrate Judge Suzanne Mitchell on 12/5/2017. (brs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
GEORGIA A. GEIMAUSADDLE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Case No. CIV-17-0203-SM
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Georgia A. Geimausaddle (Plaintiff) brings this action for judicial review
of the Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security’s (Commissioner)
final decision she was not “disabled” under the terms of the Social Security Act.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423(d)(1)(A). The parties have consented under 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. Docs. 14,
19.1 Following a careful review of the parties’ briefs, the administrative record
(AR), and the relevant authority, the court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.
Citations to the parties’ pleadings and attached exhibits will refer to this
Court’s CM/ECF pagination. Citation to the state court records will refer to the
The Social Security Act defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). “This twelve-month duration requirement
applies to the claimant’s inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity,
and not just his underlying impairment.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084
(10th Cir. 2007) (citing Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 218-19 (2002)).
Burden of proof.
Plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing a disability” and of “ma[king]
a prima facie showing that he can no longer engage in his prior work activity.”
Turner v. Heckler, 754 F.2d 326, 328 (10th Cir. 1985). If Plaintiff makes that
prima facie showing, the burden of proof then shifts to the Commissioner to
show Plaintiff “retains the capacity to perform an alternative work activity and
that this specific type of job exists in the national economy.” Id. (citation
The ALJ assigned to Plaintiff’s case applied the standard regulatory
analysis and concluded Plaintiff had not met her burden of proof. AR 22-33;
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4); see also Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d
1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (describing the five-step analysis). Specifically, the
ALJ found Plaintiff:
was severely impaired, first, by degenerative disc disease,
second, by degenerative joint disease, third, by hypertension,
fourth, by anxiety disorder, and fifth, by affective disorder.
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed
had the residual functional capacity (RFC)2 to perform light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
with additional limitations;
could perform her past relevant work as a weigher operator;
could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy, such as small product assembler, and
inspector packer; and so,
had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from June 7, 2012 through July 29, 2015.
Appeals Council action.
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Appeals Council reviewed
Plaintiff’s additional evidence, and determined it, in consideration with the
entire record, provided no basis for changing the ALJ’s decision. Id. at 2; see
Residual functional capacity “is the most [a claimant] can still do despite
[a claimant’s] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1); 416.945(a)(1).
also id. at 1-6. The ALJ’s decision is thus the Commissioner’s final decision.
See Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011).
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision.
A court reviews the Commissioner’s final “decision to determine whether
the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the
correct legal standards were applied.” Mays v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 569, 571 (10th
Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence is “more
than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084. A
decision is not based on substantial evidence “if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (internal quotation marks
omitted). The court “cannot reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment
for that of the administrative law judge’s.” Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264,
1266 (10th Cir. 2016).
Further, “if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground
for reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence.” Thompson v. Sullivan,
987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). However, the court “must ‘exercise
common sense’ in reviewing an ALJ’s decision and must not ‘insist on technical
perfection.’” Jones v. Colvin, 514 F. App’x 813, 823 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (2012)). The ALJ’s decision must
be evaluated “based solely on the reasons stated in the decision.” Robinson v.
Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1084 (10th Cir. 2004).
A “post hoc rationale is
improper because it usurps the agency’s function of weighing and balancing the
evidence in the first instance.” Carpenter v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 1264, 1267 (10th
Plaintiff’s claims of error.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ committed legal error when he (1) “improperly
rejected the opinions of her treating physicians”; and (2) given those opinions,
the ALJ’s step-four and step-five findings lacked substantial evidence. Doc. 20,
Whether the ALJ erred in applying the treating-physician
Through its governing regulations, the SSA tells claimants that,
“[g]enerally, we give more weight to opinions from your treating sources . . . .”
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2) & 416.927(c)(2). It explains this is so
since these sources are likely to be the medical professionals most
able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of your medical
impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical
evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical
findings alone or from reports of individual examinations such as
consultative examinations or brief hospitalizations.
Binding court precedent underscores the significance of treating source
opinion evidence, holding that when an ALJ “evaluat[es] the medical opinions
of a claimant’s treating physician, the ALJ must complete a sequential two-step
inquiry, each step of which is analytically distinct.” Krauser, 638 F.3d at 1330.
At the first step, the ALJ must determine if the opinion “is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record.” Id. “If the opinion
is deficient in either of these respects, it is not to be given controlling weight.”
Id. If the ALJ finds the opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, he must
then proceed to the second step of the inquiry to “make clear how much weight
the opinion is being given (including whether it is being rejected outright) and
give good reasons, tied to the factors specified in the cited regulations for this
particular purpose, for the weight assigned.” Id. 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 1331 (quotation omitted).
So long as the ALJ provides a well-reasoned discussion, his failure to
“explicitly discuss” all the factors “does not prevent [the] court from according
his decision meaningful review.” Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1258 (10th
The treating physicians’ opinions.
Dr. Richard S. Harris, D.O.’s opinion.
The ALJ noted that, in a June 2013 Documentation of Disability form,
Dr. Harris diagnosed Plaintiff with “DJD LS Spine & Spondylosis & chronic
back pain, hypertension.” AR 385. Dr. Harris noted her “Fair” prognosis,
recommended physical therapy, limited her to no lifting, no prolonged standing
or walking, and indicated it was “unknown” whether the condition could be
improved through treatment. Id. In November 2012, Dr. Harris limited her to
“no lifting over 5 pds,” and again recommended physical therapy. Id. at 389.
With respect to Dr. Harris’ treatment of Plaintiff, the ALJ noted:
The opinion of Dr. Harris is given little weight as it is not
consistent with the medical evidence. Dr. Harris opined the
claimant is not able to do any lifting or stand for prolonged periods
of time. The current medical evidence does not reflect this degree
Id. at 30.
Undoubtedly, the ALJ neglected to state whether Dr. Harris’ opinion was
entitled to controlling weight before assigning it a relative weight. It appears
the ALJ simply jumped to the assessment of relative weight.
constitutes legal error, but if the reasons articulated by the ALJ are sufficient
for determining that Dr. Harris’ opinion should not be given controlling weight,
then the error is harmless. Mays, 739 F.3d at 575 (“Ms. Mays argues that the
ALJ did not expressly state whether he had given Dr. Chorley’s opinion
But the ALJ implicitly declined to give the opinion
controlling weight. Because we can tell from the decision that the ALJ declined
to give controlling weight to Dr. Chorley’s opinion, we will not reverse on this
ground.”); see also Causey v. Barnhart, 109 F. App’x 375, 378 (10th Cir. 2004)
(unpublished) (“Implicit in the ALJ’s decision is a finding that Dr. Waldrop’s
opinion . . . is not entitled to controlling weight.”); see also Andersen v. Astrue,
319 F. App’x 712, 721 (10th Cir. 2009) (unpublished) (“It is apparent that the
ALJ concluded that these opinions were not entitled to controlling weight.
Although ordinarily the ALJ should have made explicit findings to this effect
. . . we are not troubled by the substance of the ALJ’s determination.”). The
court will accordingly not reverse the ALJ for failing to discuss whether Dr.
Harris’ opinion was entitled to controlling weight, as his decision to ascribe the
opinion “little weight” shows that he implicitly declined to give it controlling
The ALJ clearly declined to give Dr. Harris’ opinion controlling weight.
The ALJ found the opinion inconsistent with the current medical evidence. AR
The ALJ summarized the medical evidence, including Dr. Harris’
treatment records, and also summarized relevant portions of Plaintiff’s
testimony and statements in the record concerning her usual activities and
functional limitations. Id. at 27-31. Plaintiff provides no specific instance in
which the ALJ misinterpreted the treatment records, nor has she pointed to
specific medical evidence in the record contradicting the ALJ’s factual finding
that the “current medical evidence” differs from the November 2012 and June
The ALJ adequately considered the medical record and
provided adequate reasons for giving Dr. Harris’ opinion little weight. See
Endriss v. Astrue, 506 F. App’x 772, 777 (10th Cir. 2012) (“The ALJ set forth a
summary of the relevant objective medical evidence earlier in his decision and
he is not required to continue to recite the same evidence again in rejecting [the
Dr. Melinda Powers, D.O.’s opinion.
The ALJ noted Plaintiff’s history of visits with Dr. Powers. AR 28-30.
Dr. Powers saw Plaintiff periodically from January 2014 through June 2015.
Id. In January 2014, Plaintiff’s chief complaint to Dr. Powers was back pain
and that a previously fractured right wrist was still painful. Id. at 571. She
had swollen finger joints and decreased range of motion. Id. at 28. Dr. Powers
assessed her with “metacarpal fracture, DJD fingers and back.” Id. at 569.
Plaintiff reported her activity level as “Active,” meaning 2.5-to-5 hours of
weekly activity. Id. at 28.
The ALJ noted January 2014 hand x-rays showed “juxta articular
osteoporosis and soft tissue swelling” and “[n]o acute findings.” Id. at 542, 29.
He also noted “arthritic joints noted with ulnar deviation noted in right hand.”
Id. Plaintiff received an injection of Depo Medrol. Id. at 545. Her gait was
normal and her strength was 5/5. Id. at 28. Plaintiff’s discharge condition was
stable, and she was to follow up with her increased symptoms. Id. at 544. Dr.
Powers concluded Plaintiff’s arthritis “is severe and limited her ability to work
at this time.” Id. at 547, 29.
On March 31, 2014, Dr. Powers assessed Plaintiff with “DJD of lumbar
spine/with spondylosis.” Id. at 542. The ALJ noted Plaintiff “reported her
wrists limited her ability to use her hands and arms well. . . .” Id. at 28. Dr.
Powers assessed a normal gait and strength of 5/5. Id. at 29.
The ALJ considered Plaintiff’s March 6, 2015 visit to Dr. Powers, where
Plaintiff complained of left shoulder pain that had lasted for a month. Id. Her
strength was 5/5, her gait normal, and she had adequate strength in her left
arm, with “crepitus with range of motion.” Id. She also had muscle tension
around the shoulder and scapula. Her shoulder x-ray was normal, and Dr.
Powers diagnosed left shoulder pain, osteoarthritis of acromioclavicular joint
and essential hypertension. Id. He prescribed Prednisone for five days and
Tramadol for pain, along with Plaintiff’s previous medications. Id. Plaintiff’s
activity level remained “active.” Id.
In June 2015, after falling ceiling material injured Plaintiff the previous
month, she visited Dr. Powers. Id. Plaintiff requested the discontinuation of
her “pain medication agreement” so she might receive pain medication. Id. Dr.
Powers noted spasm in the lumbar back and some tenderness “to palpitation at
the right T-L junction.”
“All other examinations were within normal
limits.” Id. Dr. Powers assessed “acute thoracic pain and headache disorder”
and prescribed Tylenol with codeine every six hours for pain. Id.
The ALJ noted Plaintiff returned on June 15, 2015 for the results of her
CT scan and x-rays. Id. “[S]he was able to complete her activities of daily living
and she had no new complaints.” Id. at 29-30. The CT scan showed “no
evidence for acute intracranial abnormality . . . .” Id. at 30. The x-ray “showed
mild anterior compression deformity at the T12 vertebra, age indeterminate
and mild spondylosis.”
Id. at 30, 647.
Plaintiff received a diagnosis of
“arthralgia and mechanical back pain,” and was recommended various
stretches, to continue current medications, and to use moist heat. Id. at 30,
With respect to Dr. Powers’ January 2014 opinion, the ALJ gave it little
The opinion of Dr. Powers is also given little weight. Although
the claimant testified to some issues with her hands, Dr. Powers
provided extreme limitations that were vague and not supported
by the medical evidence including x-rays.
Id. at 30 (emphasis added). Again, the ALJ failed to address whether he
ascribed controlling weight to the opinion, jumping instead to relative weight.
As above, any error is harmless. Mays, 739 F.3d at 575.
The Commissioner argues Dr. Powers’ assessment of an inability to work
“at this time,” does not support an inability to work for twelve months. Doc.
21, at 5-6; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909. Plaintiff makes no argument
otherwise, apart from arguing the ALJ should have included some sort of
“right-hand [manipulative] limitations,” though Dr. Powers prescribed nothing
specific. See Doc. 20, at 19; AR 30.
The ALJ’s consideration of Dr. Powers’ opinion, though terse, is
supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951,
954 (10th Cir. 2014) (“The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical
facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities,
observations).”) (quoting SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (July 2, 1996)).
The Court declines to reweigh the ALJ’s determination that substantial
evidence existed to contradict the opinions of these medical professionals.
Harper v. Colvin, 528 F. App’x 887,892 (10th Cir. 2013).
And, the ALJ adequately reviewed the “medical evidence” in the record,
“including x-rays.” AR 30; see id. at 29-30; Endriss, 506 F. App’x at 777;
Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074, 1078 (10th Cir. 2007) (an ALJ may discount
medical evidence “if it is internally inconsistent or inconsistent with other
evidence”) (citations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(3) (“[M]ore
weight” will be given to medical source opinions that are supported by relevant
evidence.) & 416.927(c)(3) (same)); cf. Armijo v. Astrue, 385 F. App’x 789, 795
(10th Cir. 2010) (holding that ALJ’s implicit determination that treating
physician’s opinion was not entitled to controlling weight was supported by
substantial evidence, noting the ALJ pointed out “particular conflicts” between
the opinion and “specific record evidence” and “internal inconsistencies” in the
opinion); Tarpley v. Colvin, 601 F. App’x 641, 643-44 (10th Cir. 2015) (where
the ALJ failed to state whether he gave treating physician’s opinion controlling
weight, stating “any imaginable oversight on this score is clearly harmless
because the ALJ’s ruling unambiguously demonstrates that he declined to give
the opinions controlling weight and . . . he had substantial evidence to support
that decision”). Accordingly, the Court finds no reversible error in connection
with Plaintiff's argument on the issue of the weight the ALJ gave to the medical
opinions in the record.
Plaintiff briefly challenges the “great weight” the ALJ gave to the State
agency medical consultants’ opinions, and the ALJ’s application of the correct
legal standards in doing so. Doc. 20, at 22-23. Substantial evidence supports
the ALJ’s analysis.
The ALJ based his allocation of great weight on a
comprehensive review of the record and, as the Commissioner notes, it was
consistent with the objective medical evidence from Dr. Powers. Doc. 21, at 10
(citing AR 569, 556, 542, 634). Even when considering the stricter standard set
forth in SSR 96-6p, the Court cannot find the ALJ improperly weighed the State
agency medical consultants’ opinions.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s step-four and
Finally, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s step-four and step-five findings.
Plaintiff argues that at best, she should be limited to sedentary work, which,
given her age, requires a finding of disabled. Doc. 20, at 23-24. Because
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC assessment and the ALJ’s
questions to the vocational expert mirrored the RFC, substantial evidence also
supports the ALJ’s step-four and step-five conclusions.
The court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.
ENTERED this 5th day of December, 2017.
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