United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.
On July 16, 2010, plaintiff filed applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. These applications alleged a disability onset date of June 25, 2009. On March 2, 2012, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's applications. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on March 20, 2012 that plaintiff was not qualified to receive benefits. This decision has been adopted by 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. 9-19).
There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 9-11). 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 C.F.R. 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 fifth and last step of the evaluation process. The ALJ decided that plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
The ALJ made the following specific findings in his decision. First, plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for Social Security benefits through September 30, 2012. Second, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after June 25, 2009, the alleged onset date of disability. Third, plaintiff has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; degenerative joint disease; back problems; borderline intellectual functioning; depression; and post-traumatic stress disorder. Fourth, 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, plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform:
sedentary work... [in that plaintiff] is able to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and occasionally. She can walk/and stand for 2 hours in an 8-hour day and can sit for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour day. However, she is limited to simple routine repetitive work with only occasional interaction with the public.
(Tr. 13). The ALJ also found that plaintiff has mild restrictions in the activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or pace. (Tr. 12). Sixth, plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. But, seventh, plaintiff is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as: wire patcher, ampule sealer and administrative support worker. (Tr. 18). This last finding was based upon the testimony of a vocational expert. The ALJ also considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. The ALJ found that the vocational expert's testimony was consistent with the information contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).
III. THE DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE ALJ FAILED TO PROPERLY WEIGH THE OPINIONS OF DR. MHATRE AND LYNN WAGNER-KNIGHT.
Plaintiff's first argument to overturn the denial of benefits is that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate certain opinions. Plaintiff focuses, first, upon the opinion of Dr. Vijay Mhatre, plaintiff's treating physician since June 3, 2010, who has diagnosed and treated plaintiff for ...