United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS AND
ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's objections
(doc. 30) to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed
Findings and Recommended Disposition (“PFRD”)
(doc. 29), recommending that the Court deny
Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to Agency (doc.
15). Being fully advised, the Court will OVERRULE the
objections, ADOPT the PFRD, and DENY Plaintiff's Motion.
applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits
(“SSDI”) on August 3, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of March 29, 2012. Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 192-94. Plaintiff alleged that he had a
disability resulting from a ruptured back disc, a bulging
neck disc, and depression. AR at 209. The claim was initially
denied on November 16, 2012, and upon reconsideration on
April 18, 2013. AR at 90-102, 104-18. An Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on August 21, 2014. AR at 43-88.
October 8, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR at 14-34.
Plaintiff appealed the denial of his application to the
Appeals Council, which declined review on May 2, 2016, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. AR at 1-3. Plaintiff sought judicial review of
the Commissioner's decision by filing a Complaint in this
Court on July 5, 2016. Doc. 1. Plaintiff filed his
Motion to Remand the agency decision on January 19, 2017, and
briefing was completed on the Motion to Remand on April 19,
2017. Docs. 15, 20, 21.
October 3, 2017, Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth issued
his Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition
recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's Motion to
Remand. Doc. 29. The Magistrate Judge recommended
affirming the Commissioner's decision to deny
Plaintiff's application for benefits because the ALJ (1)
properly supported his decision to assign little weight to
the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Paul
Puziss, (2) properly incorporated the opinion of the
SSA's consultative psychological examiner Dr. Edwin Homes
into Plaintiff's RFC, and (3) comported with proper legal
standards in determining Plaintiff's sitting/standing and
reaching limitations. See Id. at 7-21.
filed objections to the PFRD on October 17, 2017. Doc.
30. Plaintiff objects to all of the Magistrate
Judge's recommended findings, except that he has
abandoned the argument that the ALJ erred by failing to
resolve a conflict between the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“the DOT”) and the Vocational
Expert's (“VE”) testimony regarding
Plaintiff's reaching limitations, which was addressed by
the Magistrate Judge in his third recommended finding.
See generally Id. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's PFRD that
the ALJ committed no reversible error.
Standard of Review
party objects to the magistrate judge's proposed findings
and recommendations, the Court “shall make a de novo
determination of those portions . . . to which objection is
made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Objections must be made
with specificity; general or conclusory objections are
insufficient. See United States v. 2121 E. 30th St.,
73 F.3d 1057, 1060-61 (10th Cir. 1996). Further,
“issues raised for the first time in objections to the
magistrate judge's recommendation are deemed
waived.” Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421,
1426 (10th Cir. 1996). The district judge may accept, reject,
or modify the recommended disposition; receive further
evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with
instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
ALJ's decision to assign Dr. Puziss's opinion little
weight is supported by substantial evidence.
first objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the
ALJ properly supported his decision to assign Dr.
Puziss's opinion little weight. Doc. 30 at 4-8.
In evaluating the medical opinion of a claimant's
treating physician, the ALJ must complete a two-step inquiry.
Krauser v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1330 (10th Cir.
2011). An ALJ must first determine whether the opinion of a
treating source is entitled to controlling weight.
Id. A treating source's opinion is entitled to
controlling weight if it is “well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and “consistent with other
substantial evidence in the record.” Watkins v.
Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2003) (quoting
SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *2 (July 2, 1996)). To
determine what weight to give to a medical opinion, the ALJ
must consider the following factors:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, including the treatment provided and
the kind of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree
to which the physician's opinion is supported by relevant
evidence; (4) consistency between the opinion and the record
as a whole; (5) whether or not the physician is a specialist
in the area upon which an opinion is rendered; and (6) other
factors brought to the ALJ's attention which tend to
support or contradict the opinion.
Goatcher v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 52 F.3d 288, 290 (10th Cir. 1995) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)-(6)); see also Kilpatrick v.
Astrue, 502 F. App'x 801, 806 (10th Cir. 2012)
ALJ does not give the treating source's opinion
controlling weight, he “must announce good reasons for
the weight assigned” and “[s]uch reasons must be
‘sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent
reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating
source's medical opinion and the reasons for that
weight.'” King v. Barnhart, 114 F.
App'x 968, 970 (10th Cir. 2004) (unpublished) (quoting
SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *5); see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527 (“We will always give good
reasons in our notice of determination or decision for the
weight we give your treating source's medical
the ALJ gave “very little weight” to Dr.
Puziss's opinion, which limited Plaintiff to sedentary
work. AR at 30. The ALJ provided the following
reasons for the weight he assigned:
First, it appears that the [opinion] was based on the
claimant's subjective report rather than on objective
evidence, as Dr. Puziss's records, and those of others,
all discussed above, document minimal objective findings and
none that would warrant a limitation to sedentary work. . . .
In addition, the claimant did not see Dr. Puziss after
September 12, only six months after the alleged onset date,
and subsequent records do not document objective findings or
any change that would support a limitation to sedentary work.
Finally, no other physician has subsequently assessed similar