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Richthofen v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 19, 2018

JOHNNY RICHTHOFEN
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

         SECTION: “H” (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge regarding cross motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED IN PART, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART, and the case is REMANDED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Johnny Richtofen filed a complaint in this Court on November 1, 2016 seeking a review pursuant to section 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381.[1] The administrative record was filed, the matter was briefed, and the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation. The Report and Recommendation sets forth a detailed factual and procedural history of the matter which this Court adopts.[2]

         Plaintiff identifies three issues for appeal:

1. Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's Step 2 determination of Plaintiff's severe impairments.
2. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the opinion evidence of record and properly developed the record in assessing the Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity.
3. Whether the ALJ's Step 5 determination is supported by substantial evidence.

         With respect to Issue One, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff's edema was not a severe impairment was supported by substantial evidence. The Magistrate Judge further concluded that, regardless of whether substantial evidence supported the ALJ's Step 2 determination, there was no reversible error at this step because the ALJ proceeded to the remaining steps while taking into account Plaintiff's edema. With respect to Issue Two, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ's weighing of the opinion evidence and determination of Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) were supported by substantial evidence. With respect to Issue Three, the Magistrate Judge again concluded that the ALJ's Step 5 determination was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation.[3]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Because Plaintiff has objected, this Court considers de novo the matters addressed by the Report and Recommendation.[4] The function of a district court on judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner is limited to determining whether there is “substantial evidence” in the record, as a whole, to support the final decision of the Commissioner as trier of fact and whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards to evaluate the evidence.[5] If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm them.[6]

         “Substantial evidence” is that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[7] It is more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.[8] A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to support the Commissioner's decision.[9] A district court may not try the issues de novo, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner.[10] The Commissioner is entitled to make any finding that is supported by substantial evidence, regardless of whether other conclusions are also permissible.[11] Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts.[12] Any of the Commissioner's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive.[13]Despite this Court's limited function on review, the Court must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence exists to support it.[14]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         This Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's finding and reasoning as to Issue One that there is no reversible error because the ALJ proceeded beyond Step 2 while taking into account Plaintiff's edema. Finding no reversible error, this Court does not reach the issue of whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's edema was not severe and therefore does not adopt the Magistrate Judge's finding that such evidence existed.

         As to Issue Two, this Court finds that the record does not contain substantial evidence to support the ALJ's minimal weighing of Dr. Kleinpeter's opinion or the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff could sit for more than four hours per day, would not have to take unscheduled breaks, and would not have to recline during the day.

         On April 9, 2014, Dr. Kleinpeter, Plaintiff's treating physician, provided a medical source statement in which she opined that Plaintiff could sit for only four hours in an eight-hour workday, stand or walk for two hours in an eight- hour workday, and lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently.[15] Dr. Kleinpeter also opined that Plaintiff must recline in excess of normal breaks, would require daily unscheduled breaks of one to two hours, and would be absent from work more than four times a month.[16] The ALJ stated that he credited Dr. Kleinpeter's standing, walking, and lifting restrictions. However, the ALJ incorrectly cited Dr. Kleinpeter as reporting that Plaintiff could stand and walk for four hours in an eight-hour workday.[17]

         In fact, Dr. Kleinpeter's form shows that Plaintiff could stand and walk for only two hours in an eight-hour workday.[18] The ALJ also explicitly discredited Dr.

         Kleinpeter's opinion that Plaintiff could sit for only four hours per day, must recline and take extra breaks, and would miss more than four days per month.[19] According to the ALJ, that opinion was “not well supported by physical examination findings of record or by the daily activities reported by the claimant at the hearing.”[20]

         As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), with the added limitation that Plaintiff not be ...


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