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Chaddock v. Colvin

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

January 29, 2014

TRACY CHADDOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.

On October 26, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits, alleging disability beginning on August 16, 2005. The alleged disability date was later amended to October 26, 2009. On August 24, 2011, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's application. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on December 9, 2011 that plaintiff was not qualified to receive benefits because she was not "disabled" as required under the law. The Appeals Council denied review and the ALJ's decision was then adopted by defendant. This case is now before the court upon plaintiff's motion to review the decision to deny plaintiff's application for benefits.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To qualify for SSI benefits, a claimant must establish that he is "disabled" under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. This means proving 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant becomes eligible for SSI benefits in the first month where he 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, 1270 (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. 11-25).

The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 for determining eligibility for SSI benefits. The ALJ found first that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability, October 26, 2009.

Second, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe medical impairments: bradycardia; atherosclerosis; coronary artery disease; bipolar disorder NOS; bipolar disorder with psychotic features; major depressive disorder/major depression; generalized anxiety disorder/anxiety disorder; and panic disorder without agoraphobia. The ALJ found that plaintiff had a mild restriction in her activities of daily living and observed that she was able to take care of herself, do typical household tasks, drive, and manage her finances. He determined that she had moderate difficulties in social functioning, although she could shop in stores and did attend church. The ALJ further concluded that plaintiff had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or pace, although he acknowledged that plaintiff had been noted by some sources to have good concentration, attention, insight and memory.

Third, he determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in the social security regulations.

Fourth, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), but is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, not performed in a fast-paced production environment or as an integral part of a team, and involving only simple work-related decisions. The ALJ further found that plaintiff was limited to superficial interaction with supervisors and co-workers and must avoid all interactions with the general public. With this RFC in mind, the ALJ found that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a personal care attendant.

Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there were jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. In making this finding, the ALJ relied upon a vocational expert who testified that plaintiff would be able to perform the requirements of a kitchen helper, industrial cleaner and dining room attendant.

III. THE ALJ PROPERLY CONSIDERED THE EVIDENCE RELATING TO PLAINTIFF'S RFC.

Plaintiff makes two main arguments to overturn the decision to deny SSI benefits. First, plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider relevant evidence in determining plaintiff's RFC. Specifically, plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not consider plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome and failed to consider plaintiff's GAF scores in ...


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