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James v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 20, 2014

JANET J. JAMES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, District Judge.

Plaintiff seeks review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying certain benefits under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.

I. Background

Plaintiff applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. In due course, plaintiff exhausted proceedings before the Commissioner, and she now seeks judicial review of the final decision denying benefits. Plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), in determining her residual functional capacity (RFC), failed to comply with the narrative discussion requirement of Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p.

In rendering his decision that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act, the ALJ employed the familiar five-step sequential process. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.920; Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010) (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988)). In the first three steps, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date; that plaintiff had severe impairments, namely bilateral hearing loss (improved with hearing aids), disorder of back (status post surgery), headaches, and depression; and that plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal the severity of the listed impairments. The ALJ then determined the following RFC for plaintiff:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work (lift or carry 10 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand or walk for two hours out of an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday) as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except: She may occasionally climb stairs, but should never climb ropes, scaffolds or ladders. She can occasionally stoop. She must avoid loud background noise. She must avoid unprotected heights and hazardous moving machinery. Secondary to mental issues, reported chronic pain and headaches, she may do simple to intermediate tasks but is limited to jobs that do not demand attention to details or complicated job tasks or instructions. She may work in proximity to others, but, is limited to jobs that do not require close cooperation and interaction with co-workers, in that, she would work best in relative isolation. Secondary to her hearing impairment and mental issues she is limited to only occasional interaction and cooperation with the general public. She retains the capacity to: maintain attention and concentration for minimal 2 hour periods at a time; accept supervision on a basic level; and adapt to changes in the work place on a basic level.

Finally, in steps four and five, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had no relevant past work, but that there were jobs that plaintiff could perform given her RFC and her other circumstances. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled.

II. Analysis Plaintiff's sole argument on review is that the ALJ failed to comply with SSR 96-8p's narrative discussion requirement in determining her RFC. SSR 96-8p provides in relevant part as follows:

The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations). In assessing RFC, the adjudicator must discuss the individual's ability to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule), and describe the maximum amount of each work-related activity the individual can perform based on the evidence available in the case record. The adjudicator must also explain how any material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the case record were considered and resolved.
Medical opinions . The RFC assessment must always consider and address medical source opinions. If the RFC assessment conflicts with an opinion from a medical source, the adjudicator must explain why the opinion was not adopted.

SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (July 2, 1996).

The Tenth Circuit has described the ALJ's duty to discuss the evidence as follows:

The record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, but an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence. Rather, in addition to discussing the evidence supporting his decision, the ALJ also must discuss the uncontroverted evidence he chooses not ...

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