United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.
In December 2010, plaintiff filed applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. These applications alleged a disability onset date of December 13, 2010. On June 28, 2012, a hearing was conducted upon plaintiff's applications. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on July 25, 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.
Upon review, the court shall grant plaintiff's motion to reverse and remand because the court agrees with plaintiff that the ALJ failed to follow the proper legal standards in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
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. 11-21).
There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 12-13). 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 her decision. First, plaintiff met the insured status requirements for Social Security benefits through December 31, 2012. Second, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after December 13, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability. Third, plaintiff has the following severe impairments: low back pain; obesity, anxiety, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and a learning 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:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, sit for six hours in an eight hour day, stand or walk for six hours in an eight hour day, climb ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally, cannot climb ladders, must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, vibration, and hazards, can complete simple routine, repetitive, unskilled work, cannot have contact with the public, and can have occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors.
(Tr. 15). The ALJ also found, in assessing plaintiff's mental impairments, that plaintiff has mild restrictions in the activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning and concentration, persistence or pace and no episodes of decompensation, which have been of extended duration. (Tr. 14). 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. The ALJ referred to the testimony of a vocational expert who concluded that a person with plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity (RFC) could perform the jobs of cleaner, packing line worker, and assembler. (Tr. 20).
III. THE ALJ DID NOT APPLY THE CORRECT LEGAL STANDARDS IN ASSESSING PLAINTIFF'S RESIDUAL ...