United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
N. Parrish United States District Court Judge
the court is Plaintiff Gina Poole's appeal from the
Commissioner's decision denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. For the reasons below, the
Commissioner's denial is affirmed.
Poole filed an application for disability benefits in
February 2013, but the Social Security Administration denied
her application initially and on reconsideration. Ms. Poole
then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(ALJ). That hearing occurred on February 10, 2015 before ALJ
Barry Jenkins in Las Vegas, Nevada.
evaluated Ms. Poole's claim using the familiar five-part
sequential evaluation process. See Williams v.
Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988). At step
one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Poole did not engage in
substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date
through her date last insured. At step two, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Poole had the following severe
impairments: disorder of the left ankle-status post gastroc
slide, disorder of the lumbar spine, obesity, and depression.
At step three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Poole did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526. At step
four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Poole had the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with certain limitations. And at
step five, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Poole was capable of
performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Poole
was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
October 6, 2008 (the alleged onset date) through December 31,
2013 (the date Ms. Poole was last insured). On August 25,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Poole's request for
review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing an appeal of a Social Security determination, the
court considers “whether the factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
Joyce v. Barnhart, 88 Fed. App'x 320, 324 (10th
Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Fowler v.
Bowen, 876 F.2d 1451, 1453 (10th Cir. 1989)). The court
must examine the record closely to determine whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
determination, but the court may not “reweigh the
evidence or substitute [its] judgment for the
Commissioner's.” Id. (citation omitted).
The court also considers “whether the correct legal
standards were applied.” Id.
steps one through four of the sequential evaluation,
“[t]he claimant bears the burden of establishing a
prima facie case of disability.” Id.
Once the claimant meets that burden, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to show at step five that the
claimant retains sufficient residual functional capacity to
perform work in the national economy, given her age,
education, and work experience. Id.
appeal, Ms. Poole argues that the ALJ erred in two regards:
(1) the ALJ did not give controlling weight to the opinion of
Ms. Poole's treating physician (Dr. Douglas Callahan),
and (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate whether Ms.
Poole's impairments met or equaled Listing 1.02.
The Weight Given to Dr. Callahan's Opinion
In social security disability cases, treating physicians may
offer opinions regarding claimants' impairments. However,
a treating physician's opinion that a claimant is
disabled “is not dispositive because final
responsibility for determining the ultimate issue of
disability is reserved to the [Commissioner].”
Id. at 325 (quoting Castellano v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1029 (10th Cir.
1994)). Under the treating physician rule, “the agency
will generally give more weight to medical opinions from
treating sources than those from non-treating sources.”
Id. However, “the agency will not give
controlling weight to the medical opinion of a treating
source unless the source's conclusion is
‘well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence.'” Id.
(quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).
Douglas Callahan, D.O., was one of Ms. Poole's treating
physicians. He began seeing her in July 2010. In October
2014, he filled out a residual functional capacity assessment
diagnosing Ms. Poole with left ankle and foot pain and
chronic back pain. Under “prognosis, ” he
indicated that Ms. Poole's condition “[h]as been
getting worse” but that she “[h]ad surgery and
[her] ankle has been better but is still painful.” In
estimating Ms. Poole's functional limitations, he
indicated that she cannot walk a city block without rest or
severe pain, that she cannot walk a block on rough or uneven
ground, and that she cannot climb steps without use of a
handrail at a reasonable pace. Furthermore, he indicated that
she has problems with balance when ambulating and problems
stooping, crouching, and bending. Dr. Callahan opined that
Ms. Poole must lie down for about three hours during an
eight-hour workday and that she can sit for twenty minutes,
stand for five minutes, and walk for five minutes. He further
noted that she would require unscheduled breaks of five to
ten minutes every twenty to thirty minutes and that she can
lift or carry fifteen pounds or more only rarely. In Dr.
Callahan's opinion, Ms. Poole's impairments,
symptoms, and limitations probably lasted since 2009.
court noted above, two conditions must be met for a treating
physician's opinion to be accorded controlling weight:
(1) that opinion must be well supported by medical evidence,
and (2) that opinion must be consistent with other
substantial evidence. However, the ALJ found that Dr.
Callahan's opinion met neither condition because it was
“not consistent with the medical evidence and the
claimant's activities.” A.R. at 23. Ms. Poole
argues that the ALJ erred in not giving controlling weight to
Dr. Callahan's opinion because “nothing in [Ms.
Poole's] testimony contradicts Dr. Callahan's
opinions regarding Ms. Poole's residual ...