United States District Court, D. Kansas
PATRICK W. HENNESSY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.
On September 28, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning on September 1, 2009. He had recently turned 18 years-old. On September 6, 2011, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's application. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on September 15, 2011 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 application for benefits.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
To qualify for supplemental security income benefits, a claimant must demonstrate that he is "disabled" under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a, 1382. 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). 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. Lax v. Astrue , 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). "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 . 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 , 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A. , 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).
II. THE ALJ'S DECISION (Tr. 13-21).
There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 13-15). 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 CFR 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, plaintiff has no prior history of relevant work and 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 had the residual functional capacity to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
The ALJ made the following specific findings in her decision. First, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after September 28, 2009, the application date for benefits. Second, plaintiff has Asperger's syndrome which is a severe impairment. Third, 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. The ALJ specifically considered the listings at 12.06 and 12.10 and discussed whether the "paragraph B" criteria were satisfied. The ALJ determined that plaintiff has mild restrictions in the activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and mild difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence or pace. She further determined that plaintiff has experienced no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Because the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not have "marked restrictions" in at least two of the "paragraph B" criteria or repeated episodes of decompensation, she decided that the "paragraph B" criteria were not satisfied.
Fourth, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: He should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, gases, and chemicals. He is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; with brief and superficial contact with co-workers and the general public. The work should have few changes in the routine work setting.
(Tr. 17). Finally, considering this residual functional capacity as well as plaintiff's age, education and work experience, the ALJ consulted with a vocational expert and determined that plaintiff is capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as: stubber; stacker; linen-supply load-builder; and shipping-and-receiving weigher.
III. THE DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS SHALL BE AFFIRMED BECAUSE THE ALJ'S DECISION IS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE AND NO LEGAL ERROR HAS BEEN DEMONSTRATED.
Plaintiff contends that the decision to deny benefits should be reversed because the ALJ committed an error in her analysis of whether plaintiff met the requirements of a listed impairment, specifically Listing 12.10. To satisfy those requirements, the criteria of paragraphs A and B of Listing 12.10 must be met. In this case, the ALJ focused upon the criteria of paragraph B which provides that there must be medically documented findings of at least two of the following: "1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or 2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or 3. Marked difficulties in ...