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Strong v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 7, 2013

ALBERTA STRONG, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.

On July 19, 2007, plaintiff filed applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. These applications alleged a disability onset date of June 14, 2004. On February 11, 2010, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's applications. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on April 30, 2010 that plaintiff was not qualified to receive benefits. Plaintiff asked for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council which was denied on August 21, 2012. Thus, the denial of benefits is the decision of defendant. This case is now before the court upon plaintiff's motion to reverse and remand the decision to deny plaintiff's applications for benefits.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she was "disabled" under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E), during the time when the claimant had "insured status" under the Social Security program. See Potter v. Secretary of Health & Human Services , 905 F.2d 1346, 1347 (10th Cir. 1990); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.130, 404.131. To be "disabled" means that the claimant is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

For supplemental security income claims, a claimant becomes eligible in the first month where he or she is both disabled and has an application on file. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.202-03, 416.330, 416.335.

The court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Rebeck v. Barnhart , 317 F.Supp.2d 1263, 1271 (D.Kan. 2004). "Substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla;" it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id., quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court must examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the defendant's decision, and on that basis decide if substantial evidence supports the defendant's decision. Glenn v. Shalala , 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994) (quoting Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services , 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991)). The court may not reverse the defendant's choice between two reasonable but conflicting views, even if the court would have made a different choice if the matter were referred to the court de novo. Lax v. Astrue , 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A. , 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).

II. THE ALJ'S DECISION (Tr. 14-22).

There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 15-16). First, it is determined whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. Second, the ALJ decides whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is "severe" or a combination of impairments which are "severe." At step three, the ALJ decides whether the claimant's impairments or combination of impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Next, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity and then decides whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. Finally, at the last step of the sequential evaluation process the ALJ determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering his or her residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience.

In this case, the ALJ decided plaintiff's application should be denied on the basis of the fourth step of the evaluation process. The ALJ decided that plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a customer service clerk through the date of his decision.

The ALJ made the following specific findings in his decision. First, plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for Social Security benefits through June 30, 2010. Second, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after June 14, 2004, the alleged onset date of disability. Third, plaintiff has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with neuropathy; restless leg syndrome; atherosclerotic heart disease; hypertension, hyperlidemia; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The ALJ further found that plaintiff has affective mood disorder, which the ALJ categorized as a non-severe impairment. In making this finding, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's mood disorder caused: a mild restriction in plaintiff's activities of daily living; no limitation in social functioning; a mild limitation in concentration, persistence or pace; and no episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 17).

Fourth, the ALJ found that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the Listed Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

Fifth, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform:

a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). Specifically, [plaintiff] can climb no ropes, scaffolds, or ladders; she may have only occasional handling and fingering with the left upper extremity; and she cannot have prolonged exposure to concentrated airborne pollutants.

(Tr. 18).

Sixth, in spite of these limitations, the ALJ found that plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a customer clerk/service specialist. This last finding was based in part ...


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