United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Kohler Magistrate Judge.
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of
the Social Security 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”; it 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 1157.
reviewing the record, the parties' briefs, and the
parties' oral arguments, the Court has decided to affirm
the Commissioner's decision.
applied for benefits in May 2015, alleging disability
beginning December 1, 2013, due to memory loss, a blood
clotting disorder, pulmonary embolism, sleep apnea, and
depression, among other conditions (Certified Administrative
Transcript (Tr.) 147-50, 176). He completed high school and
had past relevant work as a software engineer (Tr. 177-78).
hearing (Tr. 29-42), an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued
an April 2018 decision finding that Plaintiff was not
disabled through December 31, 2016, his date last insured
(Tr. 9-28). 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 Plaintiff had
severe impairments (frontal lobe syndrome, sleep apnea, and
obesity), but that his medical conditions did not meet or
equal the criteria of the per se disabling impairments listed
at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (Tr. 14-17). The ALJ
next determined that Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of light
work (Tr. 17-21). Considering this RFC, and consistent with
vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
unable to perform his past relevant work, but could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy (Tr. 21-22). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 22).
Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for
review (Tr. 1-5), 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.
appeal, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's decision was not
supported by substantial evidence, asserting that (1) the ALJ
erred in evaluating the opinions from Dr. Martin Shinedling;
and (2) that the ALJ failed to account for all of
Plaintiff's limitations in assessing his RFC
(Plaintiff's Brief (Pl. Br.) 2-14). However, as discussed
below, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record, and
therefore, it must be affirmed.
The ALJ's Evaluation of Dr. Shinedling's
preliminary matter, it is undisputed by the parties that in
order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish
disability on or before his date last insured. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101, 404.120, 404.315; see
also Potter, 905 F.2d at 1348-49. At issue in
this case is the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff
failed to establish that he was disabled prior to his
December 2016 date last insured (Tr. 12-22). See
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *8
(“Under Title II, a period of disability cannot begin
after a worker's disability insured status has
challenging the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff primarily
relies on two opinions from Dr. Shinedling-one from December
2017 and another from February 2018 (Plaintiff's Brief
(Pl. Br.) 6-9). However, as Defendant points out, both of
these opinions were authored long after Plaintiff's
December 2016 date last insured. The Tenth Circuit has noted
that medical evidence beyond a claimant's date last
insured may be considered, but only to the extent that it
sheds light on the nature and severity of the plaintiff's
condition during the relevant time period. See
Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1217 (10th Cir.
2004). There is no evidence Dr. Shinedling treated or
evaluated Plaintiff prior to December 2017, and his resulting
opinion did not purport to assess Plaintiff's mental
functioning prior to December 2016 (Tr. 539-44). Further,
while Dr. Shinedling's February 2018 opinion stated that
Plaintiff first exhibited symptoms consistent with a
neurocognitive disorder in 2016 (Tr. 625), Dr. Shinedling did
not evaluate Plaintiff in 2016, and there is no evidence that
he reviewed Plaintiff's medical records (Tr. 539-44,
624-31). Dr. Shinedling also acknowledged that it was
“unknown” whether Plaintiff's impairments,
symptoms, and limitations had been present since December
2013 (Tr. 630). Thus, the Court concludes that Dr.
Shinedling's opinions were of limited assistance to the
ALJ in assessing Plaintiff's functioning and abilities
from December 2013 through December 2016. See Huston v.
Bowen, 838 F.2d 1125, 1127 (10th Cir. 1988)
(claimant's eligibility for benefits turned on the
severity of his back problems prior to his date last insured,
not at the time of his subsequent application).
despite the fact that these opinions lacked temporal
relevance, the ALJ still considered them and reasonably
concluded that they were only entitled to little weight (Tr.
20). The ALJ first determined that Dr. Shinedling's
February 2018 opinion was inconsistent with his December 2017
evaluation (Tr. 20). For instance, although Dr.
Shinedling's December 2017 testing revealed that
Plaintiff's memory was in the normal range (Tr. 543), in
February 2018, he opined that Plaintiff would have memory
problems (Tr. 625). And while the December 2017 evaluation
did not appear to evaluate Plaintiff's social functioning
or abilities, Dr. Shinedling later assessed him with many
moderate to marked limitations in his ability to interact
with others (compare Tr. 539-44 with Tr.
628). Finally, Dr. Shinedling's earlier testing showed
that Plaintiff scored in the 95th percentile in verbal
reasoning ability and in the 75th percentile in long term
memory and general fund of information (Tr. 542-43). Dr.
Shinedling nonetheless assessed him with many moderate to
marked limitations in areas such as understanding and
learning terms and instructions; following instructions; and
identifying and solving problems (Tr. 628). Thus, the Court
finds that the ALJ reasonably concluded that Dr.
Shinedling's February 2018 opinion was inconsistent with
his December 2017 examination. See20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c)(4) (stating an ALJ must consider
consistency); Simmons v. Colvin, 635 Fed.Appx.
512, 515 (10th Cir. 2015) (unpublished) ...