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Lopez v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

August 13, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


LEONARD T. STRAND, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Rojeanna Josephine Lopez seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Lopez contends the administrative record (AR) does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled. For the reasons discussed below, the decision must be affirmed.


Lopez was born in 1972 and completed high school and cosmetology school. AR 134-40, 191-92. She previously worked as a cashier, fast food worker and hairdresser. AR 293. Lopez filed for DIB and SSI on March 22, 2010, alleging disability beginning on October 31, 2009, [1] due to fibromyalgia, syncope, hypotension/low blood pressure, depression, left hip pain, migraines, stress and low blood sugar. AR 134-40, 190-91. Her claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 67-70. Lopez requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 90. On March 22, 2012, ALJ Julie Bruntz held a hearing via video conference during which Lopez and a vocational expert (VE) testified. AR 43-66.

On April 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Lopez not disabled since March 12, 2010. AR 21-35. Lopez sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, and submitted additional evidence, but the Appeals Council denied review on July 30, 2012. AR 4-11. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

On September 27, 2012, Lopez filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the ALJ's decision. On October 23, 2012, with the parties' consent, United States District Judge Mark W. Bennett transferred the case to me. The parties have briefed the issues and the matter is now fully submitted.

Summary of ALJ's Decision

The ALJ made the following findings:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2014.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 12, 2010, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: pseudoseizures; obesity; major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate; anxiety disorder; and conversion disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she would need to avoid hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. There can be only occasional changes in the work setting; she is limited to simple, routine tasks; and she can have only short-lived superficial contact with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on March 14, 1972 and was a younger individual age 18-49 on the amended alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 12, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

AR 23-35.

In analyzing Lopez's residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ discussed Lopez's medical history. She summarized her impairments and the tests she had undergone following her first pseudoseizure. AR 25-26. She also analyzed the results of the consultative examination performed by Michael Stitt, M.D., in August 2010. AR 26. Lopez reported to Dr. Stitt that she suffered from syncope, narcolepsy, pseudoseizures and fibromyalgia. During his physical examination, Dr. Stitt found that her range of motion was mostly normal with only some decrease in neck motion and pain with straight leg raise on the left side. Id. He assessed her with fainting, fibromyalgia, narcolepsy and conversion disorder with seizures. He concluded that she was unable to bend, lift, twist, climb, stoop, kneel, or lift/carry any weight. She also could not handle objects and would not do well with hazards. The ALJ found that Dr. Stitt's opinion was inconsistent with the objective medical findings from his evaluation. She noted that Dr. Stitt had diagnosed Lopez with fibromyalgia even though he found that she had little to no tender points. He also concluded she was unable to do many physical work-related activities even though he found her range of motion was essentially normal. Id. Due to these inconsistencies, the ALJ gave his opinion little weight.

The ALJ also considered the state agency consultants' opinions. Dr. Melodee Woodard reviewed Lopez's records relating to her physical impairments. She noted that Dr. Stitt's evaluation seemed to reflect Lopez's allegations but was otherwise unsupported by evidence in the record. AR 27. She also found it significant that Dr. Tobon had told Lopez she could "resume normal activities" in March 2010, with no restrictions. Id. The ALJ gave Dr. Woodard's opinions some weight for being generally consistent with the record as a whole, but in observing the longitudinal record of evidence, which included obesity, the ALJ found Lopez was more limited than Dr. Woodard opined. AR 28.

Dr. Chrystalla Daly also reviewed Lopez's records relating to her physical impairments and affirmed Dr. Woodard's assessment as written. AR 29. The ALJ gave Dr. Daly's opinion some weight for the same reasons she discussed with regard to Dr. Woodard's opinions. AR 29-30.

Dr. Jennifer Ryan reviewed Lopez's records concerning mental impairments, such as her history of depression and anxiety and her diagnosed pseudoseizures and conversion disorder. AR 28. The ALJ gave Dr. Ryan's opinion significant weight because it was consistent with the record as a whole. AR 29. In August 2010, Lopez had moderate symptom severity with some fluctuations related to issues with her husband. Id. Dr. Ryan reviewed a work performance assessment completed by Lopez's employer in April 2010, which contained generally poor to very poor work performance ratings, with the exception of adequate ability to follow rules, general appearance, and adequate ability to interact with others in the work place. AR 29. The supervisor noted that Lopez lacked motivation overall, but she would be willing to rehire her if her health improved. Dr. Ryan also examined Lopez's function report and a third party report which were generally consistent with each other. Id. Lopez alleged problems with memory, concentration and task ...

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