United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Jenkins United States District Judge.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff seeks judicial review
of a decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration. The decision denied her claim for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. The matter came before this court on April 5,
2019, with Ryan Oldroyd appearing on behalf of Plaintiff and
Melissa Scheunemann appearing on behalf of Defendant. After
hearing oral argument, the court reserved on the matter.
Having carefully reviewed the record, briefs, and oral
arguments, the court hereby AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
2003, Plaintiffs left hand was struck at work, causing
chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS) in her left hand and
upper left extremity. She left the workforce in 2009,
alleging her CRPS had become too impairing. Plaintiff last
paid social security taxes in 2014. Evaluating whether
Plaintiff became disabled between 2009 and 2014, the ALJ
found at step two that Plaintiffs impairment was severe, but
at steps three through five, she found it was not enough to
be a disability because Plaintiffs pain could be managed for
her to do light work. Plaintiff has presented four arguments
for reversal of the ALJ's decision, mostly centering on
the ALJ's alleged failure to follow SSR 03-02p, a
regulation governing CRPS cases like this one.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when failing to consider
whether Plaintiffs impairment equaled the per se disability
of peripheral neuropathy, under listing 11.14.Although SSR
03-02p notes CRPS will never meet a listed impairment, the
regulation directs an ALJ to "determine whether medical
equivalence [to a listed impairment] may exist."
Titles II & XVI: Evaluating Cases Involving Reflex
Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/Complex Reg'l
Pain Syndrome, SSR 03-02p *6 (S.S.A. Oct. 20, 2003).
Here, the court finds the ALJ did consider whether Plaintiffs
impairment equaled listing 11.14. The ALJ's heading for
step three so indicates, and she provided thorough reasoning
later in the decision-as she may do-about why Plaintiff did
not met her burden of showing an equivalent impairment.
See Tr. 16-19 (assessing Plaintiffs level of
limitation in physical functioning); Fischer-Ross v.
Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 733 (10th Cir. 2005) ("[A]n
ALJ's findings at other steps of the sequential process
may provide a proper basis for upholding a step three
conclusion that a claimant's impairments do not meet or
equal any listed impairment.").
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when giving little or no
weight to Plaintiffs 2011 and 2017 treating physician
opinions. According to SSR 03-02p, an ALJ must give a
treating physician opinion "controlling weight" if
it is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent
with the other substantial evidence in the case record."
SSR 03-02p at *5. Additionally, the regulation requires an
impairment be established by objective medical evidence and
"not only by an individual's statement of
symptoms." Id. at *3. Here, the court finds the
ALJ made no reversible error. As to the 2017 physician
opinion, the ALJ appropriately gave it "little"
weight because the opinion admits it was "based purely
on [Plaintiffs] subjective complaints" and that
Plaintiff "[did] not have any objective findings."
Tr. 1039. The 2017 opinion is also inconsistent with
substantial evidence in the record showing Plaintiffs pain
can be managed with treatment, which she was receiving. As to
the 2011 opinion, although the ALJ gave it no weight, the
error was harmless. The opinion itself supports the ALJ's
decision because it advocates for continued trigger-point
injections to keep Plaintiff employable. See Tr.
548-49. Indeed, Plaintiff continued this treatment.
See Tr. 18, 491-92. The harmless error does not
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiffs
credibility. SSR 03-02p instructs an ALJ to evaluate
credibility when the claimant's statements about her
pain-about its intensity, persistence, or effects-are not
substantiated by objective medical evidence. SSR 03-02p at
*6, In doing so, the ALJ must examine the "entire case
record," including not only the plaintiffs subjective
complaints but also the objective medical evidence, treating
physician statements, and any other relevant evidence.
Id. Here, the court finds the ALJ properly evaluated
the credibility of Plaintiff s alleged pain. After
considering the entire record and the factors required by the
regulations, the ALJ found it credible that Plaintiff
experienced some limitations from pain, but not
credible that she experienced disabling limitations
from pain. The record shows Plaintiffs daily activities,
albeit limited, are more than sporadic-she cooks basic meals,
does her own laundry, gardens, vacuums, picks up after her
dog, and cares for her nephew from time to time. See,
e.g., Tr. 38-39, 42, 174-75. Cf. Frey v. Bowen,
816 F.2d 508, 517 (10th Cir. 1987) (noting the claimant could
have disabling pain where daily activities were so limited
that "he does no yard work and only minor house chores,
mostly to care for himself). Moreover, Plaintiffs treatment
history shows her pain, although it fluctuates, but can be
managed. See, e.g., Tr. 492, 548-49. Thus, the
record as a whole supports the ALJ's credibility
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when giving hypotheticals to
the vocational expert. Specifically, the ALJ omitted
Plaintiffs alleged limited attention and concentration.
Defendant did not address this argument; nevertheless, the
court finds the ALJ did not err. An ALJ's hypothetical to
a vocational expert must reflect all impairments "borne
out by the evidentiary record." Decker v.
Chater, 86 F.3d 953, 955 (10th Cir. 1996). Here, the
record includes Plaintiffs testimony that her pain affects
her sleep and concentration, and her physician's 2017
opinion that Plaintiffs pain "often" interferes
with her attention and concentration. Tr. 17, 1040. But
Plaintiffs testimony about her pain was discounted by the
ALJ's credibility determination and the 2017 opinion was
given "little" weight for its solely subjective
basis and inconsistency with the record. Tr. 19. Because
Plaintiffs alleged limitations are not borne out by the
record, the ALJ appropriately omitted them from hypotheticals
to the vocational expert. See Newbold v. Colvin, 718
F.3d 1257, 1268 (10th Cir. 2013) (omitting a limitation where
the ALJ gave a physician opinion "diminished
weight"); Decker, 86 F.3d at 955 (omitting a
limitation where the ALJ found the claimant's statements
only "partially credible").
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence
and free of harmful legal error, the Commissioner's
decision is therefore AFFIRMED. Judgment shall be entered in
Defendant's favor in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 58.
 A per se disability under this listing
requires a claimant's impairment meet, or equal in
severity, the following: (1) peripheral neuropathy, (2) a
marked limitation in physical functioning, and (3) a marked
limitation in ...