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Byers v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 3, 2013

DEBRA BYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CARLOS MURGUIA, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Debra Byers brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s denial of plaintiff’s applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 and 1381. Finding no error in the Commissioner’s analysis, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. Background

Plaintiff protectively filed for benefits in November 2009. The agency denied her applications initially and upon reconsideration, and plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff’s request was granted, and plaintiff appeared with an attorney for a hearing before ALJ Edmund C. Werre on March 17, 2011. At the hearing, the ALJ received testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert.

Thereafter, the ALJ issued a decision on April 11, 2011. He determined that plaintiff has not performed substantial gainful activity since November 5, 2009, and that she has severe impairments including seizure disorder and migraine headaches. The ALJ found that plaintiff’s impairments do not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listed impairments.

The ALJ considered the evidence and assessed plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). He assessed plaintiff with the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. But the ALJ determined plaintiff should have no exposure to temperature or humidity extremes or pulmonary irritants, no exposure to workplace hazards such as dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights, and should not operate motorized vehicles.

Based on the RFC, the ALJ concluded plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. But he determined that, considering plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. The ALJ concluded plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act and denied plaintiff’s applications.

Plaintiff sought, but was denied, Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision. Therefore, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely filed this case requesting judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision.

II. Legal Standard

Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act allows an individual to seek judicial review of any final decision of the Commissioner made after a hearing to which the individual was a party. The court’s role in conducting this review is to determine (1) whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, and (2) whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (stating that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”). In completing this review, the court may “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

Under Section 423(d) of the Social Security Act, a person is under a disability when the individual can establish that he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. To evaluate disability, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Step one requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. Step two requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a severe medical impairment. Id. Step three requires the Commissioner to determine whether the severity of the claimant’s impairments meets or equals a listing and the duration requirement. Id.

After evaluating steps one through three, the Commissioner assesses the claimant’s RFC. The Commissioner then uses the RFC for steps four and five. Step four requires the Commissioner to consider the claimant’s RFC and determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Id. Step five requires the Commissioner to determine whether—considering the claimant’s RFC and vocational factors of age, education, and work experience—the claimant is able to perform other work in the economy. Id. In steps one through four, the burden is on the claimant. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751 n.2 (10th Cir. 1988). In step five, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. at 751.

III. Analysis

Plaintiff makes three challenges to the Commissioner’s decision. First, plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the credibility of plaintiff’s allegations of symptoms resulting from her headaches. The ALJ found that plaintiff’s headaches might cause the alleged limitations and that there is a nexus between plaintiff’s allegations regarding her limitations and her headaches. But, after considering the evidence, he found ...


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