United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. BROOMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action for review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security denying Plaintiff's claim for
disability insurance benefits. The matter has been fully
briefed and the court is prepared to rule. (Docs. 13, 14,
15.) For the reasons stated herein, the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
General Legal Standards
court's standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), which provides that "the findings of the
Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive." The Commissioner's
decision will be reviewed to determine only whether the
decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.
Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994).
Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance, and is satisfied by such evidence that
a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Although the court is not to reweigh the evidence, the
findings of the Commissioner will not be mechanically
accepted. Nor will the findings be affirmed by isolating
facts and labeling them substantial evidence, as the court
must scrutinize the entire record in determining whether the
Commissioner's conclusions are rational. Graham v.
Sullivan, 794 F.Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The
court should examine the record as a whole, including
whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the
Commissioner's decision and, on that basis, determine if
the substantiality of the evidence test has been met.
Glenn, 21 F.3d at 984.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520; Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139
(10th Cir. 2010). If at any step a finding of disability or
non-disability can be made, the Commissioner will not review
the claim further. At step one, the agency will find
non-disability unless the claimant can show that he or she is
not working at a “substantial gainful activity.”
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir.
1988). At step two, the agency will find non-disability
unless the claimant shows that he or she has a severe
impairment. At step three, the agency determines whether the
impairment which enabled the claimant to survive step two is
on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render
one disabled. Id. at 750-51. If the claimant's
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the
agency determines the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).
The RFC assessment is used to evaluate the claim at both step
four and step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); §
404.1520(f), (g). At step four, the agency must determine
whether the claimant can perform previous work. If a claimant
shows that she cannot perform the previous work, the fifth
and final step requires the agency to consider vocational
factors (the claimant's age, education, and past work
experience) and to determine whether the claimant is capable
of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. Barnhart v. Thomas, 124 S.Ct.
376, 379-380 (2003).
claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the
analysis. Blea v. Barnhart, 466 F.3d 903, 907 (10th
Cir. 2006). At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work
that exists in the national economy. Id.;
Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir.
1993). The Commissioner meets this burden if the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Thompson, 987
F.2d at 1487.
History of Case
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on
January 4, 2013. (R. at 303.) She was 27 years old at the
time of the application. She had previously (2007-2010)
worked in a bank as an account associate. On July 29, 2016,
ALJ Cynthia K. Hale denied Plaintiff's application. (R.
at 34-48.) At step one, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged
onset date, September 4, 2010, through the last date
Plaintiff was insured under the Act, December 31, 2014. (R.
at 36.) At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, chronic
fatigue, opiate dependence, anxiety disorder, depressive
disorder, bipolar disorder, and marijuana dependence.
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that none of
Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or
medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in the
regulations. (R. at 37.)
proceeded to determine Plaintiff's RFC, concluding that
Plaintiff could perform sedentary work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except she needed to be able to
alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes for a
brief position change; she needed to avoid concentrated
exposure to fumes, odors, and gases, avoid poor ventilation,
and avoid anything more than moderation noise levels. She was
limited to performing simple to intermediate work tasks with
instructions, with no interaction with the general public,
and only occasional interaction with coworkers; no constant
motion or production-rate work tasks; and she required a
low-stress work environment. (R. at 39.)
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work. (R. at 46.) At step five, the ALJ found that,
through the date Plaintiff was last insured, and considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there were jobs in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform, including Final
Assembler (DOT 713.687-018), Document Preparer (DOT
249.587-018), and Administrative Support Worker (DOT
209.587-010). (R. at 47.) The ALJ thus found Plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
RFC - physical impairments.
argues the ALJ's physical RFC is unsupported by
substantial evidence. (Doc. 13 at 24.) In particular,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erroneously rejected the opinion
of Stewart Grote, D.O., a treating physician, based on the
ALJ's misunderstanding of fibromyalgia and chronic
fatigue syndrome. Plaintiff contends these impairments
“will not be manifested in motor or neurological
deficits, ” and the ALJ thus erred in rejecting
Grote's opinion on grounds that his treatment notes
“do not document any motor or neurological deficits
reasonably consistent with his conclusions, ” or
because Plaintiff may have had normal results on
range-of-motion, strength, or cognitive function tests.
(Id. at 24-25.) Plaintiff also challenges the
ALJ's rejection of Grote's opinion for consisting of
mere “checkbox forms, ” arguing the ALJ ignored
Grote's treatment records showing the severity of
Plaintiff's impairments. (Id. at 25.)
analyzing a treating physician's opinion, an ALJ first
considers ‘whether the opinion is well supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is consistent with the other substantial
evidence in the record.'” Allman v.
Colvin, 813 F.3d 1326, 1331 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Pisciotta v. Astrue,500 F.3d 1074, 1077 (10th
Cir.2007)). If the opinion is well supported, the ALJ must
give it controlling weight. Id. If the ALJ decides
the opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, the ALJ