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Barthelman v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

January 8, 2014

ZACHARY LEE BARTHELMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JULIE A. ROBINSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court for review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Zachary Barthelman’s applications for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, [1] and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.[2] Because the Court finds that Defendant Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court affirms the decision of the Defendant Commissioner.

I. Procedural History

On August 12, 2008, Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. His application claimed an onset date of July 16, 2008; and he was last insured for disability insurance benefits on June 30, 2009. Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). After a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled; the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision. Plaintiff then timely sought judicial review before this Court.

II. Standard for Judicial Review

Judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to whether Defendant’s decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether defendant applied the correct legal standards.[3] The Tenth Circuit has defined “substantial evidence” as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[4] In the course of its review, the court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of Defendant.[5]

III. Legal Standards and Analytical Framework

Under the Social Security Act, “disability” means the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment.”[6] An individual “shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.”[7] The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled.[8] If the ALJ determines the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step along the way, the evaluation ends.[9]

Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ’s determination at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity[10] since July 16, 2008, the alleged onset date. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ’s determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically “severe” impairments: major depressive disorder with elements of bipolar disorder; anxiety disorder; panic disorder; polysubstance abuse in recent remission; and osteopenia.

But Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s determination: (1) at step three that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal a listing; (2) of Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) at step four based on the ALJ’s erroneous evaluation of the medical evidence, including his erroneous failure to give controlling weight to the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician and his erroneous evaluation of Plaintiff’s credibility; and (3) at step five based on the ALJ’s erroneous hypothetical question to the vocational expert, tainted by the ALJ’s errors in steps three and four of the analysis.

IV. Discussion

A. Plaintiff’s Impairments Did not Meet Listings 12.04 and 12.06

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff’s mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or equal the criteria for Listings 12.04 and 12.06.[11] Plaintiff has the burden at step three of demonstrating, through medical evidence, that his impairments “meet all of the specified medical criteria” contained in a particular listing.[12]Moreover, “[w]hether the findings for an individual’s impairment meet the requirements of an impairment in the listings is usually more a question of medical fact than a question of medical opinion . . . [i]n most instances, the requirements of listed impairments are objective, and whether an individual’s impairment manifests these requirements is simply a matter of documentation.”[13] As discussed further, the Court finds that the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proving, through medical evidence, that his impairments met or equaled either Listing 12.04 or 12.06.

Listing 12.04, Affective Disorders, [14] requires a showing that claimant’s impairments either meet the requirements of paragraphs A and B, or meet the requirements of paragraph C. And Listing 12.06 (Anxiety Related Disorders), [15] requires a showing that claimant’s impairments either meet the ...


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