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Burgin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 5, 2014

KIMNESHIA A. BURGIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SAM A. CROW, Senior District Judge.

This is an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security which denied plaintiff supplemental security income payments. 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 in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994). When supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

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. Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). 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). But the standard "does not allow a court to displace the agency's choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo. " Trimmer v. Dep't of Labor, 174 F.3d 1098, 1102 (10th Cir. 1999).

The claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if he can establish that he has a physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months which prevents him from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The claimant's physical or mental impairment or impairments must be of such severity that he is not only unable to perform his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine disability. If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the Commissioner will not review the claim further. At step one, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant can show that she is not working at a "substantial gainful activity." At step two, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that she has a "severe impairment, " which is defined as any "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." At step three, the agency determines whether the impairment which enabled the claimant to survive step two is on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the inquiry proceeds to step four, at which the agency assesses whether the claimant can do her previous work. The claimant is determined not to be disabled unless she shows she cannot perform her previous work. The fifth step requires the agency to consider vocational factors (the claimant's age, education, and past work experience) and to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20 (2003).

The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the analysis. Nielson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant retains sufficient residual functional capacity to perform other work that exists in the national economy, given her age, education, and work experience. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007); Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). The Commissioner meets this burden if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Thompson, 987 F.2d at 1487.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff was found disabled as a minor in 2002 because she met the relevant listing for mild mental retardation. (Tr. 19, 82, 373-78.). But under the Social Security Act, children who are receiving supplemental security income when they reach age eighteen must have their disability redetermined under the disability rules used for adults. See § 1614(a)(3)(H). Thus when Plaintiff reached age eighteen, her case was reviewed under the five-step sequential evaluation process stated above.

At step one, the administrative law judge (ALJ) found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2008. The ALJ found at step two that the plaintiff has the severe impairment of mild mental retardation, but found at step three that this impairment did not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment. The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform other work at all exertional levels but could understand and follow only simple instructions and perform work that required no reading (Tr. 23). The ALJ did not evaluate the Plaintiff under step four because she had no past relevant work. The ALJ found at step five that Plaintiff could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a spool winder, burr grinder, final assembler of optical goods, and stringer machine tender (Tr. 26). Thus the ALJ found she was no longer disabled. (Tr. 19, 80, 82.)

In this review, Plaintiff's claims of error focus upon the step three and RFC findings.

Listing 12.05(C)

At step three, the Plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating that her impairments meet all of the specified medical criteria contained in a particular listing. See Candelario v. Barnhart, 166 Fed.Appx. 379, 382-83 (10th Cir. 2006). The standards for listed impairments were intentionally set high because they operate to cut off further inquiry relatively early in the sequential evaluation process. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 532 (1990).

To meet Listing 12.05, "Mental Retardation, " a claimant must meet the "capsule definition" and one of the four severity prongs for mental retardation. Lax v. Astrue , 489 F.3d 1080, 1085 (10th Cir. 2007). The capsule definition states:

Mental retardation refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence ...

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