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Swafford v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 11, 2014

PHENGSEE SWAFFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SAM A. CROW, Senior District Judge.

This is an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the plaintiff disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments, finding that plaintiff was no longer disabled as of November 1, 2009. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties.

I. General legal standards

The court's standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." The court should review the Commissioner's decision to determine only whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Glenn v. Shalala , 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is satisfied by such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion. The determination of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision is not simply a quantitative exercise, for evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence or if it really constitutes mere conclusion. Ray v. Bowen , 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989). Although the court is not to reweigh the evidence, the findings of the Commissioner will not be mechanically accepted. Nor will the findings be affirmed by isolating facts and labeling them substantial evidence, as the court must scrutinize the entire record in determining whether the Commissioner's conclusions are rational. Graham v. Sullivan , 794 F.Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The court should examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the Commissioner's decision and, on that basis, determine if the substantiality of the evidence test has been met. Glenn , 21 F.3d at 984.

This case involves termination of benefits after plaintiff was previously found to be disabled. For disability insurance benefits, there is an eight-step evaluation process when determining if disability continues or ends. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). For supplemental security income, there is a seven-step evaluation process when determining if disability continues or ends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5).

The one step unique to disability insurance benefits is whether plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, plaintiff is no longer disabled. The remaining seven steps common to disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income are as follows:

(1) Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment? (If yes, the claimant is still disabled.)

(2) If not, has there been medical improvement?

(3) If there has been medical improvement, the agency must determine whether it is related to claimant's ability to work (i.e., whether there has been an increase in the residual functional capacity (RFC) based on the impairment that was present at the time of the most favorable medical determination.

(4) If no medical improvement was found at step 2, or the medical improvement was found at step 3 not to be related to claimant's ability to work; the agency considers a number of exceptions in order to determine if disability ends or the analysis proceeds to the next step.

(5) If medical improvement at step 3 was related to claimant's ability to work, or if an exception in step 4 applies that results in proceeding to the next step, the agency will assess whether the claimant's current impairments are severe. If claimant has no severe impairments, claimant will no longer be considered disabled.

(6) If claimant's impairments are severe, the agency will assess plaintiff's RFC, and consider whether plaintiff can perform past work.

(7) If claimant cannot perform past work, the agency will consider, given claimant's RFC and claimant's age, education, and past work experience, whether claimant can perform other work in the national economy.

If the Commissioner meets his burden of establishing that the claimant's medical condition has improved and that the improvement is related to the claimant's ability to work, the Commissioner must then demonstrate that the claimant is currently able to engage in substantial gainful activity. Hayden v. Barnhart , 374 F.3d 986, 988 (10th Cir. 2004). The burden of proof is on the Commissioner in a ...


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