Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Layton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 1, 2017

RICKY SHAWN LAYTON, Sr., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (hereinafter Commissioner) denying Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under sections 216(i), 223, 1602, and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381a, and 1382c(a)(3)(A) (hereinafter the Act). Finding no error in the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision, the court ORDERS that judgment shall be entered pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) AFFIRMING the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning October 29, 2010.[2] (R. 24, 302, 304). Plaintiff exhausted proceedings before the Commissioner, and now seeks judicial review of the final decision denying benefits. He argues that the ALJ erred in weighing the treating source opinions of his primary care provider, Dr. Hisel, and his neurologist, Dr. Martinez.

         The court's review is guided by the Act. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). The Act provides that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court determines whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether he applied the correct legal standard. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007); accord, White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 905 (10th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but it is less than a preponderance; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also, Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052; Gossett v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 802, 804 (10th Cir. 1988).

         The court may “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991)); accord, Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005); see also, Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994) (The court “may not reweigh the evidence in the record, nor try the issues de novo, nor substitute [the Court's] judgment for the [Commissioner's], even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision.”) (quoting Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988)). Nonetheless, the determination whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision is not simply a quantitative exercise, for evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence or if it constitutes mere conclusion. Gossett, 862 F.2d at 804-05; Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989).

         The Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential process to evaluate a claim for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010) (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988)). “If a determination can be made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not necessary.” Wilson, 602 F.3d at 1139 (quoting Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084). In the first three steps, the Commissioner determines whether claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset, whether he has a severe impairment(s), and whether the severity of his impairment(s) meets or equals the severity of any impairment in the Listing of Impairments (20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1). Williams, 844 F.2d at 750-51. After evaluating step three, the Commissioner assesses claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). This assessment is used at both step four and step five of the sequential evaluation process. Id.

         The Commissioner next evaluates steps four and five of the sequential process--determining at step four whether, in light of the RFC assessed, claimant can perform his past relevant work; and at step five whether, when also considering the vocational factors of age, education, and work experience, claimant is able to perform other work in the economy. Wilson, 602 F.3d at 1139 (quoting Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084). In steps one through four the burden is on Plaintiff to prove a disability that prevents performance of past relevant work. Blea v. Barnhart, 466 F.3d 903, 907 (10th Cir. 2006); accord, Dikeman v. Halter, 245 F.3d 1182, 1184 (10th Cir. 2001); Williams, 844 F.2d at 751 n.2. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are jobs in the economy which are within the RFC assessed. Id.; Haddock v. Apfel, 196 F.3d 1084, 1088 (10th Cir. 1999).

         The court finds no error in the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinions of Dr. Hisel or Dr. Martinez.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in weighing Dr. Hisel's medical opinion because he provided only one reason to discount the opinion, and that reason is not supported by the record evidence. (Pl. 17-18). He alleges error in weighing Dr. Martinez's medical opinion, arguing that four of the bases given to discount the opinion are not supported by the record evidence. Id., at 19-21. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's reason for discounting Dr. Hisel's opinion is valid and based on the record evidence, and should be affirmed by the court. (Comm'r Br. 7-8). She argues that in any case, the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Hisel's opinion is supported by other rationale and Plaintiff has not shown prejudice from any alleged error in this regard. Id. at 9. With regard to Dr. Martinez's medical opinion, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ's reasons for discounting the opinion are supported by the record evidence, that Dr. Martinez did not administer psychological testing to determine the degree of limitation resulting from Plaintiff's traumatic brain injury, and did not explain the bases for the limitations he found. Id., at 11-12. She argues that “Plaintiff's argument is simply a veiled request for this Court [sic] to consider and weigh the evidence differently to support a finding of disability.” Id., at 13. In his Reply Brief, Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner misunderstood Plaintiff's arguments in his Social Security Brief, and did not actually rebut them. (Reply 1-2).

         A. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Treating Source Opinions

         The court begins, as it must, with the ALJ's decision as he characterized it, not as Plaintiff or as the Commissioner view it. This is so because if the record evidence will support two or more conclusions, and one of those is the conclusion reached in the decision at issue, the court must affirm the decision. “The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial evidence. We may not displace the agency's choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (citations, quotations, and bracket omitted); see also, Consolo v. Fed. Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

         In his decision the ALJ summarized the record medical evidence. (R. 30-32). In that summary, he noted that Plaintiff received treatment for his mental impairments from Valeo Behavioral Health, that his mental impairments responded well to psychotropic medication, and the 2014 treatment records showed overall improvement. (R. 31-32). He noted that Plaintiff “also received behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and therapeutic living services in 2014 and 2015 through Minds Matter, LLC, an organization for individuals with traumatic ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.