United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division
CAROL T. B., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE
COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING DISABILITY
J. FURSE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of
the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act (“Act”). After careful review
of the entire record, the parties' briefs, and arguments
presented at a hearing held on September 13, 2018, the Court
affirms the Commissioner's decision because substantial
evidence supports it, and it lacks harmful legal error.
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. See Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
(citation omitted). The Court may neither “reweigh the
evidence [n]or substitute [its] judgment for the
[ALJ's].” Id. (citation omitted). Where
the evidence as a whole can support either the agency's
decision or an award of benefits, the agency's decision
must be affirmed. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d
534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).
applied for benefits in October 2013, alleging disability
beginning that same month (ECF No. 11, Tr. 152-53, the
certified copy of the transcript of the entire record of the
administrative proceedings relating to Connie B. (“Tr.
”)). She claimed she was unable to work due to mental
impairments, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
(Tr. 51-60, 172.) Ms. B. completed high school and had past
relevant work as a retail store assistant manager, retail
store department manager, and photo finishing lab worker.
(Tr. 67, 69, 154-61, 164-65, 173.)
hearing (Tr. 35-75), an administrative law judge (ALJ) found
that Ms. B. was not disabled in a February 2016 decision.
(Tr. 16-30.) The ALJ followed the familiar five-step
sequential evaluation for assessing disability. See
generally 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (outlining the
process). As relevant here, the ALJ found that Ms. B. had
severe mental impairments-major depression, recurrent,
moderate, and anxiety disorder not otherwise specified-but
that her medical conditions did not meet or equal the
criteria of the disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app'x 1 (Tr.18-22.) The ALJ next
determined that Ms. B. retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of
simple, unskilled work. (Tr. 22-28.) Considering this RFC,
and consistent with vocational expert testimony, the ALJ
found that Ms. B. could not perform her past relevant work
but could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy. (Tr. 28-30, 70-73.) Hence, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. B. was not disabled under the strict
standards of the Act. (Tr. 30.)
Appeals Council later denied Ms. B.'s request for review
(Tr. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial
review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
422.210(a). This appeal followed.
argues that the ALJ's decision was not supported by
substantial evidence, asserting that the ALJ erred in
discounting an opinion from her treating psychologist, Chris
Fletcher, Ph.D. In a November 2013 medical source statement,
Dr. Fletcher opined that Ms. B. had significantly distorted,
pessimistic, catastrophic, and paranoid thinking and
displayed chronic suicidal ideation with poor insight. (Tr.
311-12.) He also opined that Ms. B. had significant
limitations (“Obvious, ” “Serious, ”
and “Very Serious” problems) in activities of
daily living, social interactions, and task performance. (Tr.
discounted Dr. Fletcher's opinion, finding it
inconsistent with evidence of record that Ms. B.'s mental
impairments improved with medication and that she had intact
memory, attention, orientation, and concentration, with no
psychotic perceptions. (Tr. 27.) See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c)(4) (an ALJ may give less weight to a
medical source opinion that is inconsistent with other
substantial evidence of record). The ALJ also found that Dr.
Fletcher's contemporaneous examination findings did not
include objective medical evidence that would support his
opinion that Ms. B. had significant mental limitations. (Tr.
27.) See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3) (stating an
ALJ may give less weight to a medical source opinion that is
not supported by “relevant evidence . . ., particularly
medical signs and laboratory findings”).
argues that although there are six regulatory factors for
weighing opinion evidence (see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(1)-(6)), the ALJ erred by only discussing two of
those factors-supportability and consistency-in assessing Dr.
Fletcher's opinion. However, not every factor applies to
every case and an ALJ is not required to “apply
expressly” each factor. See Oldham v. Astrue,
509 F.3d 1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2007). Here, the ALJ provided
a thorough discussion in support of good reasons for
discounting Dr. Fletcher's opinion (Tr. 27), and those
reasons are supported by substantial evidence.
example, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding
that Dr. Fletcher's opinion was inconsistent with other
substantial evidence of record. (Tr. 27.) See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(4) (discussing the factor of
consistency). The ALJ cited to evidence of record supporting
this finding, including other providers' observations
that Ms. B.'s depression and anxiety symptoms responded
well to medication changes and their objective examination
findings showing that Ms. B. had intact memory, attention,
orientation, and concentration, with no psychotic
perceptions. (Tr. 27 (citing Tr. 451, 454, 458, 461, 465,
470, 476, 479, 483, 491, 496, 501, 505, 508, 511, 525, 531,
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Dr.
Fletcher's opinion lacked objective medical support from
his treatment notes. (Tr. 27.) See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(3) (discussing the factor of supportability). As
the ALJ found, Dr. Fletcher's treatment notes from at and
before the time of his November 2013 opinion do not include
objective medical findings that support his extreme analysis,
such as his opinion that Ms. B. had significantly distorted,
pessimistic, catastrophic, and paranoid thinking and
displayed chronic suicidal ideation with poor insight or that
Ms. B. had extreme ...