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Ray v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 7, 2014

JOHN RAY, Plaintiff,


CARLOS MURGUIA, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Ray claims that he became unable to work on November 23, 2009, because of the following health issues: (1) a lower back injury; (2) a dislocated right shoulder; (3) hepatitis C; and (4) osteoarthritis of the hands, knees, and hips-all complicated by a learning disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, and personality disorder with antisocial features. In the past, plaintiff worked jobs in construction and manual labor. He currently works ten to twenty hours a week doing odd jobs such as painting and minor carpenter work. He filed this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., requesting supplemental security income benefits.

An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated December 2, 2011, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in three ways: (1) the ALJ did not consider whether plaintiff's impairments met or equaled Listing 12.05C of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix No. 1; (2) the ALJ failed to develop the record; and (3) the ALJ's findings regarding plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") are unsupported by substantial evidence. After reviewing the record, the court makes the following rulings.

I. Legal Standard

This court applies a two-pronged review to the ALJ's decision: (1) Are the factual findings supported by substantial evidence in the record? (2) Did the ALJ apply the correct legal standards? Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). "Substantial evidence" is a term of art. It means "more than a mere scintilla" and "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hunter v. Astrue, 321 F.Appx. 789, 792 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007)). When evaluating whether the standard has been met, the court is limited; it may neither reweigh the evidence nor replace the ALJ's judgment with its own. Bellamy v. Massanari, 29 F.Appx. 567, 569 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 337 (10th Cir. 1995)). On the other hand, the court must examine the entire record-including any evidence that may detract from the decision of the ALJ. Jaramillo v. Massanari, 21 F.Appx. 792, 794 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994)).

Plaintiff bears the burden of proving disability. Hunter, 321 F.Appx. at 792. A disability requires an impairment-physical or mental-that causes one to be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Id. (quoting Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 217 (2002)). Impairment, as defined under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), is a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

The ALJ uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). But the ALJ may stop once he makes a disability determination; he does not need to continue through subsequent steps if he is able to find a claimant disabled or not disabled at an intermediate step. Id.

The components of the five-step process are:

• Step One: The plaintiff must demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful employment activity. Id. If the plaintiff meets this burden, then the ALJ moves to Step Two.

• Step Two: The plaintiff must demonstrate that he has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments" that severely limits his ability to do work. Id. (internal quotation omitted).

º If the plaintiff's impairments have no more than a minimal effect on his ability to do work, then the ALJ can make a nondisability determination.
º If the plaintiff makes a sufficient showing that his impairments are more than minimal, then the ALJ moves to Step Three.

• Step Three: The ALJ compares the impairment to the "listed impairments"-impairments that the Secretary of Health and Human Services recognizes as severe enough to preclude substantial gainful activity. Id. at 751.

º If the impairment(s) match one on the list, then the ALJ makes a disability finding. Id.
º If an impairment is not listed, the ALJ moves to Step Four of the evaluation. Id.

• Prior to Step Four: The ALJ must assess the plaintiff's RFC. Baker v. Barnhart, 84 F.Appx. 10, 13 (10th Cir. 2003) (citing Winfrey v. ...

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