United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. Lungstrum United States District Judge
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
applied for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging disability
beginning July 19, 2015. (R. 20, 234, 236). Plaintiff
exhausted proceedings before the Commissioner, and now seeks
judicial review of the final decision denying benefits. She
argues that the ALJ erred in weighing the medical opinions of
her treating specialists, Dr. Mumford, Dr. Wang, and Dr.
court's review is guided by the Act. Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Section
405(g) of the Act provides that in judicial review
“[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 must
determine 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.
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.
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
she has a severe impairment(s), and whether the severity of
her 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
Commissioner next evaluates steps four and five of the
sequential process--determining at step four whether, in
light of the RFC assessed, the claimant can perform her past
relevant work; and at step five whether, when also
considering the vocational factors of age, education, and
work experience, the 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).
court finds no error in the ALJ's evaluation of the
acknowledges that Dr. Mumford opined that with close parking
and the use of an assistive device Plaintiff would be able to
perform sedentary work, but she argues that while Dr. Mumford
treated Plaintiff for osteonecrosis, he did not treat her
“for the underlying disorder that led to osteonecrosis
of both hips: neurosarcoidosis treated with Remicade
infusions and prednisone.” (Pl. Br. 11). She argues
that both Dr. Wang and Dr. Sankoorikal are specialists who
treated Plaintiff for neurosarcoidosis and opined that she
has limitations which would preclude all gainful work and
that the ALJ should have accorded greater weight to their
opinions than to the opinion of Dr. Mumford. Id. at
11-12. She argues that Dr. Wang's and Dr.
Sankoorikal's are the only medical opinions that
considered neurosarcoidosis, their opinions generally agree,
the reasons the ALJ provided to discount them are
insufficient, and the ALJ failed to account for the diagnosis
of sarcoidosis and the finding by Dr. Wang of
“significant physical disability” despite overall
improvement in Plaintiff's condition. (Pl. Br. 14)
(quoting R. 943).
Commissioner argues that substantial record evidence supports
the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinions. (Comm'r
Br. 3-4). She argues that each reason given by the ALJ to
discount Dr. Wang's and Dr. Sankoorikal's opinions is
supported by the record evidence and that Plaintiff's
contrary arguments rely merely on the suggestion that the ALJ
might have reached a different conclusion based upon the same
evidence. Id. at 4-8. In her Reply Brief, Plaintiff
reiterates her arguments, distinguishes the cases cited by
the Commissioner, and argues that the ALJ failed to explain
how Dr. Wang's and Dr. Sankoorikal's opinions cannot
be supported by the evidence.
The ALJ's Findings
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. [The court] 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 ...