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Demoss v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

December 18, 2013

APRIL L. DeMOSS, Plaintiff,


CARLOS MURGUIA, District Judge.

Plaintiff April L. DeMoss claims that she became unable to work on August 10, 2009, because of the following health issues: (1) bipolar I disorder, mostly hypo manic; (2) panic disorder with agoraphobia; (3) anxiety disorder; (4) obsessive compulsive disorder; and (5) attention deficit disorder-all complicated by bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, right rotator cuff tendinitis, and right knee pain. In the past, plaintiff worked as a customer service representative, food service worker, and telemarketer. She filed this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Under Title II, plaintiff requests disability insurance benefits. Under Title XVI, plaintiff requests supplemental security income benefits.

An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated January 5, 2012, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in a number of ways: (1) the ALJ did not recognize plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome as a medically determinable impairment; (2) the ALJ afforded Dr. Gerald Siemsen's opinion the most weight regarding plaintiff's physical ailments; (3) the ALJ afforded Dr. Robert Schulman's opinion the most weight as to plaintiff's mental impairments; and (4) the ALJ did not meet her burden at Step Five of showing that plaintiff can perform other work that exists in the national economy. After reviewing the record, the court makes the following rulings.

I. Legal Standard

This court applies a two-pronged review to the ALJ's decision: (1) Are the factual findings supported by substantial evidence in the record? (2) Did the ALJ apply the correct legal standards? Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). "Substantial evidence" is a term of art. It means "more than a mere scintilla" and "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hunter v. Astrue, 321 F.App'x 789, 792 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007)). When evaluating whether the standard has been met, the court is limited; it may neither reweigh the evidence nor replace the ALJ's judgment with its own. Bellamy v. Massanari, 29 F.App'x 567, 569 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 337 (10th Cir. 1995)). On the other hand, the court must examine the entire record-including any evidence that may detract from the decision of the ALJ. Jaramillo v. Massanari, 21 F.App'x 792, 794 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994)).

Plaintiff bears the burden of proving disability. Hunter, 321 F.App'x at 792. A disability requires an impairment-physical or mental-that causes one to be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Id. (quoting Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 217 (2002)). Impairment, as defined under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), is a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

The ALJ uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). But the ALJ may stop once she makes a disability determination; she does not need to continue through subsequent steps if she is able to find a claimant disabled or not disabled at an intermediate step. Id.

The components of the five-step process are:

• Step One: The plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment activity. Id. If the plaintiff meets this burden, then the ALJ moves to Step Two.
• Step Two: The plaintiff must demonstrate that she has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments" that severely limits her ability to do work. Id. (internal quotation omitted).
º If the plaintiff's impairments have no more than a minimal effect on her ability to do work, then the ALJ can make a nondisability determination.
º If plaintiff makes a sufficient showing that her impairments are more than minimal, then the ALJ moves to Step Three.
• Step Three: The ALJ compares the impairment to the "listed impairments"-impairments that the Secretary of Health and Human Services recognizes as severe enough to preclude substantial gainful activity. Id. at 751.
º If the impairment(s) match one on the list, then the ALJ makes a disability finding. Id.
º If an impairment is not listed, the ALJ moves to Step Four of the evaluation. Id.
• Prior to Step Four: The ALJ must assess the plaintiff's RFC. Baker v. Barnhart, 84 F.App'x 10, 13 (10th Cir. 2003) (citing Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996)).
• Step Four: The plaintiff must show that she cannot perform her past work. Williams, 844 F.2d at 751. If plaintiff shows that she cannot, the ALJ moves to the last step.
• Step Five: Here, the burden shifts to the ALJ. The ALJ must show that the plaintiff can perform some work that exists in large ...

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