United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Kohler United States Magistrate Judge.
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). The scope
of the Court's review of the Commissioner's final
decision is specific and narrow. As the Supreme Court
recently reiterated, “[o]n judicial review, an
ALJ's factual findings . . . ‘shall be
conclusive' if supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1153 (2019) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
The threshold for evidentiary sufficiency under the
substantial evidence standard is “not high.”
Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at 1154. Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla, ” but means only
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. (quotations and citations omitted). Under this
deferential standard, this Court may neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir.
2014). The Court's inquiry, “as is usually true in
determining the substantiality of evidence, is case-by-case,
” and “defers to the presiding ALJ, who has seen
the hearing up close.” Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at
considered the parties' arguments, having reviewed the
record and relevant case law, and having been otherwise fully
informed, the Court will affirm the administrative ruling.
applied for benefits in April 2015, alleging disability
beginning in October 2014, due to bipolar disorder,
personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”) (Certified Administrative Transcript
(“Tr.”) 158-63, 184). She completed high school
and a year-and-a-half of college, and had past relevant work
as a stocker and picker at Walmart (Tr. 36-37, 184-85).
hearing (Tr. 30-53), an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) issued a December 2017 decision finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 12-29). The ALJ followed
the familiar five-step sequential evaluation for assessing
disability. See generally 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4) (outlining the process). As relevant here, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had a severe impairment (mood
disorder), 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. 1 (Tr. 17-18). The ALJ next
determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of
work but was limited to occasional contact with others (Tr.
18-23). Considering this RFC, and consistent with vocational
expert testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform
her past relevant work, and in the alternative, could perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy (Tr. 23-24). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the strict standards of the
Act (Tr. 25).
Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for
review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial
review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481,
422.210(a). This appeal followed.
appeal, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's decision was not
supported by substantial evidence, asserting that the ALJ
erred in evaluating opinions from Plaintiff's treating
nurse, Ms. Adams, and her treating counselor, Ms. Boorman
(Plaintiff's Brief (“Pl. Br.”) 7-15). As
discussed below, the Court concludes that the ALJ's
analysis of these medical source opinions was supported by
substantial evidence in the record.
Adams is an APRN Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatry and
Mental Health. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not provide
“good reasons” for the weight given to Ms.
Adams's opinions (Pl. Br. 8). But, the Court concludes
that the ALJ reasonably weighed the multiple opinions from
Ms. Adams issued several statements indicating that Plaintiff
was “unable to work” due to her impairments (Tr.
436, 440, 529, 582, 583-92). She also opined that Plaintiff
would experience marked limitations in every category of mental
functioning, including in her ability to understand,
remember, and carry out very short and simple instructions
(Tr. 444-47). The ALJ considered Ms. Adams's opinions,
but concluded that they were entitled to little weight
because they were inconsistent with Ms. Adams's own
treatment notes andwith the record as a whole, and because
Ms. Adams was a nurse with prescription privileges, not a
medical doctor (Tr. 20-21). These were legitimate reasons to
give less weight to Ms. Adams's opinions.
preliminary matter, the Court notes that a statement that a
plaintiff is completely disabled or unable to work is never
entitled to any weight or special significance. See
20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(1)-(3) (treating source opinions
on issues that are reserved to the Commissioner are never
entitled to any special significance); Castellano v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027,
1029 (10th Cir. 1994) (a physician's opinion on an issue
reserved to the Commissioner is not binding on the
Commissioner in making his ultimate determination ...