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Neal v. Commissioner, SSA

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

September 4, 2019

LOYD W. NEAL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SSA, Defendant-Appellant.

          D.C. No. 1:17-CV-00203-LTB, D. Colo.

          Before HOLMES, BACHARACH, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

          ORDER AND JUDGMENT [*]

          Robert E. Bacharach, Circuit Judge

         In this appeal, Mr. Loyd W. Neal challenges the Social Security Administration's denial of insurance benefits based on an alleged disability. The proceedings began in 2012 when Mr. Neal applied for benefits. This application led to two hearings; both led to decisions that Mr. Neal was not disabled.

         Our appeal involves the second of these administrative decisions. In that decision, the agency found that Mr. Neal was not disabled because he could perform work existing in substantial numbers, such as a small products assembler, cleaner, router clerk, or mail sorter. Mr. Neal appealed to the district court, which affirmed. Mr. Neal now appeals to our court, and we affirm.

         1. Standard of Review

         We engage in de novo review, using our independent judgment to determine whether the administrative law judge committed a legal error and had substantial evidence for her decision. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). The evidence is substantial if it is relevant and could reasonably be regarded as adequate for a given finding. Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). To determine whether the evidence is substantial, we do not weigh it ourselves; that task is entrusted to the administrative law judge. Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201 (10th Cir. 2015).

         2. Residual Functional Capacity

         In weighing the evidence, the administrative law judge had to assess Mr. Neal's "residual functional capacity," which refers to the activities that he could perform despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). In carrying out this assessment, the administrative law judge found that Mr. Neal could perform most work described as "light." See id. § 404.1567(b). Mr. Neal challenges these findings, arguing that the administrative law judge improperly interpreted medical tests and omitted a need for frequent breaks and changes in position.

         Mr. Neal faults the administrative law judge for "attempt[ing] to interpret the significance of the clinical examination findings by Dr. Langlois." Appellant's Opening Br. at 10. But the judge did not overreach, "interpret raw medical data," or "step[] into the shoes of a medical examiner," as Mr. Neal suggests. Id. at 11-12. The judge instead analyzed the various medical reports and found Dr. Langlois's assessment less persuasive than others.

         Mr. Neal also challenges the administrative law judge's findings, arguing that they improperly omitted the need to take frequent breaks based on post-traumatic stress disorder and physical problems involving his left shoulder and lower extremities. We reject these arguments.

         Mr. Neal asserts that he needed frequent breaks based on his post-traumatic stress disorder, but he does not explain why or refer to supporting evidence. Mr. Neal's bare assertion is inadequately developed. See Bronson v. Swensen, 500 F.3d 1099, 1104 (10th Cir. 2007) ("[W]e routinely have declined to consider arguments that are not raised, or are inadequately presented, in an appellant's opening brief.").

         Mr. Neal more thoroughly develops his argument involving physical problems with his shoulder and lower extremities. According to Mr. Neal, these physical problems required frequent breaks. For this argument, Mr. Neal relies on medical opinions by two physicians, Mary Langlois, M.D. and Christopher Davis, D.O., as well as a prescription by Jill Watson, M.D.

         Dr. Langlois is a physician for the Department of Veterans Affairs who examined Mr. Neal one time in January 2013. Based on this examination, Dr. Langlois found a need to take frequent breaks for standing and moving around. The administrative law judge discounted this opinion, reasoning in part that Dr. Langlois had

. arrived at her opinion after only a single examination and a review of medical records,
. relied on Mr. Neal's own statements about his limitations, and
. noted only minimal reductions in Mr. Neal's range of motion for his knee.

         In addition, the administrative law judge relied on Dr. ...


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