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Peck v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

January 23, 2018

KELLY PECK, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Brooke C. Wells United States Magistrate Judge

         The case is before the undersigned pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and the parties' consent.[1][2] Claimant Kelly Peck (Mr. Peck) appeals from a decision denying his application for Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). On appeal Mr. Peck raises three challenges to the administrative law judge's decision. First, the ALJ's erred in the evaluation of the medical opinion evidence regarding his impairments. Second, the ALJ failed to account for all his established impairments. And third, Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's analysis at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. After reviewing the parties' briefing, the ALJ's decision, the record of proceedings in this case and relevant case law, the undersigned finds error in the ALJ's decision and therefore remands this case for further consideration.


         Mr. Peck applied for Disability, DIB and SSI on February 1, 2013, alleging disability beginning March 1, 2012.[4] Mr. Peck alleges disability due to mental and physical impairments. These include short term memory loss, back pain, fatigue, traumatic brain injury, depression, chronic fatigue, a learning disability and borderline IQ.[5] A horse kicked Mr. Peck in the head when he was three leading to severe head trauma and some brain damage.[6] Many of Mr. Peck's ailments stem from that injury and the ALJ found this injury to be a severe impairment.[7]

         After hearing all the evidence the ALJ issued a decision following the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process used to assess social security claims.[8] The ALJ determined Mr. Peck was not disabled at step five of the evaluation process finding other light unskilled jobs that Mr. Peck could perform. These jobs included work such as a fund raiser, a survey worker and an information clerk.[9]


         Because the Appeals Council denied the claimant's requested review the ALJ's decision is considered the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this appeal.[10] The court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.[11] “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[12]“A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.”[13] In considering claimant's appeal the court may “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.”[14]


         On appeal, Mr. Peck first contends the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence. Plaintiff contends the opinions of Dr. Sam Goldstein, Dr. Ralph Grant and Dr. Darin Featherstone were not properly evaluated. The court agrees that the ALJ failed to give good reasons for the weight it assigned to some of the medical opinions.

         (i) Treating Physician Rule

         Under what is generally known as the treating physician rule, the Commissioner will usually give more weight to medical opinions from treating sources than those from non-treating sources.[15] “In deciding how much weight to give a treating source opinion, an ALJ must first determine whether the opinion qualifies for ‘controlling weight.'”[16] To make this determination, the ALJ:

must first consider whether the opinion is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. If the answer to this question is ‘no, ' then the inquiry at this stage is complete. If the ALJ finds that the opinion is well-supported, he must then confirm that the opinion is consistent with other substantial evidence in the record. [I]f the opinion is deficient in either of these respects, then it is not entitled to controlling weight.[17]

         However, even when a treating physician's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, treating source medical opinions are still entitled to deference and must be weighed using the factors provided for in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and § 416.927.[18] 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 ...

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