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Silva v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

September 11, 2013

ANGELA ELAINE SILVA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SAM A. CROW, Senior District Judge.

In this case Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Defendant's denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.

I. General legal standards

The court's standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Because the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision "to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wells v. Colvin, ___ F.3d ___ (Aug. 19, 2013) ( quoting Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010)).

"Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. When supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is satisfied by such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion. Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). This standard "does not allow a court to displace the agency's choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo." Trimmer v. Dep't of Labor, 174 F.3d 1098, 1102 (10th Cir. 1999).

The Social Security Act provides that an individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if the claimant can establish that he has a physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The claimant's physical or mental impairment or impairments must be of such severity that they are not only unable to perform their previous work but cannot, considering their age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine disability. If at any step a finding of disability or nondisability can be made, the Commissioner will not review the claim further. At step one, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant can show that she is not working at a "substantial gainful activity." At step two, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that she has a "severe impairment, " which is defined as any "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." At step three, the agency determines whether the impairment which enabled the claimant to survive step two is on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the inquiry proceeds to step four, at which the agency assesses whether the claimant can do her previous work; unless the claimant shows that she cannot perform her previous work, she is determined not to be disabled. If the claimant survives step four, the fifth and final step requires the agency to consider vocational factors (the claimant's age, education, and past work experience) and to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20 (2003).

The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the analysis. Nielson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993). At step five, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in the national economy. Miller v. Chater, 99 F.3d 972, 975 (10th Cir. 1996). The Commissioner meets this burden if its decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miller, 99 F.3d at 975.

II. History of the Case

Plaintiff's medical history is well established in the record and will not be repeated here. Plaintiff, when approximately 50 years old, filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments. Plaintiff had previously worked as a custodian and a housekeeper. The ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of disability.

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. At step three, the ALJ determined that those impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.

The ALJ found Plaintiff had no restriction of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of decompensation. Tr.13-15. He found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but is limited to simple work that requires no more than occasional interpersonal contact." Tr. 15. The ALJ determined at step four that plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a custodian, so is not disabled.

III. Analysis

A. RFC - Weight to ...


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