United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division
B. Pead Magistrate Judge.
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. SHELBY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Mark Balliett filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final agency decision
denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
under Title II of the Social Security Act. He had applied
for benefits in April 2014, alleging disability as of July
31, 2013. On March 14, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) found Balliett was not disabled. On August 3,
2017, the Appeals Council denied Balliett's request for
review, making the ALJ's determination the final agency
action. Balliett then sued, and the court referred the case
to Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
Pead issued a Report and Recommendation on May 8, 2018,
recommending that this court reverse the denial of benefits
and remand the case for further consideration. Judge Pead
found the ALJ failed to evaluate the opinions of
Balliett's treating psychologist, Dr. John Kluthe, under
the applicable legal standard-the so-called ‘treating
physician rule.' Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security, filed a timely
Objection to Judge Pead's Report and
court has reviewed de novo review Berryhill's Objection.
Having considered it, along with the parties' briefing
before Judge Pead, the applicable law, evidentiary record,
and reasoning in Judge Pead's Report and Recommendation,
the court OVERRULES the Objection, ADOPTS Judge Pead's
Recommendation, REVERSES the denial of benefits, and REMANDS
Judge Pead sets forth in his Report and Recommendation, the
ALJ in a March 14, 2017 decision followed the familiar
five-step sequential evaluation for evaluating disability
Step one requires the claimant to demonstrate that he is not
presently engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step
two, the claimant must show that he has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. At step three, if a
claimant can show that the impairment is equivalent to a
listed impairment, he is presumed to be disabled and entitled
to benefits. If a claimant cannot meet a listing at step
three, he continues to step four, which requires the claimant
to show that the impairment or combination of impairments
prevents him from performing his past work.
If the claimant successfully meets this burden, the burden of
proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that
the claimant retains sufficient RFC [residual functional
capacity] to perform work in the national economy . . . . 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.
analysis, the ALJ found Balliett had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date of July 31, 2013,  and that he had the following
severe impairments: obesity, lumbar degenerative disc
disease, depression, and anxiety. But the ALJ concluded these
impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). The ALJ found Balliett had the RFC to
perform a reduced range of unskilled work; and that while
Balliett could not return to his prior work as a tax
examiner, he could perform other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. Thus, the ALJ concluded
that Balliett was not disabled.
analysis, the ALJ briefly stated and considered the opinions
of Balliett's treating psychologist, John Kluthe, PhD.
The ALJ's discussion of Dr. Kluthe's opinions is as
The claimant's treating psychologist, John Kluthe, Ph.D.
filled out several forms and wrote letters on behalf of the
claimant. He found extreme limitations in concentration and
marked limitations in understanding, memory, social
interaction, and adaptation (Exhibit I F, 4F, 5F, 12F, 14F).
Controlling weight does not apply to this opinion because it
is not entirely consistent with other substantial evidence in
the case record. I give little weight to his opinions in
Exhibit 5F because no specific work-related limitations are
identified. The claimant's opinions at page 14 regarding
a leave of absence is vague and the opinion regarding the
claimant's ability to work is reserved to the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
I give partial weight to Dr. Kluthe's other opinions.
This provider's own treatment notes do not indicate
marked or extreme limitations in any area (E.g. Exhibit 10F).
The opinions also appear to relate to the claimant's most
recent position at the IRS, where he had significant conflict
with new managers. The medical records do not show
significant complications during many routine examinations
(E.g. Exhibit 2F/ 10; 9F/3, 7, 11, 15). The medical records
support that with continuing medication management, and
psychotherapy, he could sustain a simple, low-social job.
court reviews only whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards and whether the decision below is supported by
substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is that which a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion-more than a scintilla but less than a
asserts a narrow ground for reversing the denial of his claim
for benefits. He contends the ALJ failed to properly apply
the so-called ‘treating physician rule' in
evaluating the opinions Dr. Kluthe offered.
the enunciation of this rule applicable at the time of
Balliett's claim, “[a]n ALJ should generally give
‘more weight to opinions from [claimant's ]
treating sources.” Here, an ALJ must first inquire
whether to give the opinion controlling weight. This inquiry
entails a sequential analysis beginning with an evaluation of
“whether the opinion is ‘well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.'” If the answer is no, the inquiry
ends. If the answer is yes, the ALJ next confirms whether the
opinion is “consistent with other substantial evidence
in the record.” If it is, then the opinion is
entitled to controlling weight. If it is not, the opinion is
not entitled to controlling weight-but it may not be
even if it is not controlling, the opinion is still entitled
to deference and must be “weighed using all of the
factors provided in 20 C.F.R. § ...