United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court for review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Jennifer Rouse's application for a period of disability and disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Because the Court finds that Defendant Commissioner's findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the Court reverses the decision of Defendant Commissioner.
I. Procedural History
On July 5, 2010, Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Her application claimed an onset date of June 26, 2008; and she was last insured for disability insurance benefits on June 30, 2013. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). After a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled; the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff then timely sought judicial review before this Court.
II. Standard for Judicial Review
Judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to whether Defendant's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether Defendant applied the correct legal standards. The Tenth Circuit has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." In the course of its review, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of Defendant.
III. Legal Standards and Analytical Framework
Under the Social Security Act, "disability" means the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment." An individual "shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do 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." The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. If the ALJ determines the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step along the way, the evaluation ends.
Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's determination at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 26, 2008, the alleged onset date. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically "severe" impairments: obesity, and degenerative joint disease of the right knee, right shoulder, and left ankle status post-left ankle surgery. Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's determination at step three that none of her impairments or combination of impairments meet or equal a listing.
But Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's determination of Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") at step four on the basis that the ALJ erroneously omitted limitations as a consequence of the ALJ failing to consider probative medical opinions.
Plaintiff specifically challenges the ALJ's RFC determination because: (1) the ALJ gave "substantial weight" to the opinion of Dr. Stein, yet inexplicably included a limitation that Plaintiff "cannot make more than periodical overhead use of right arm, " when Dr. Stein opined that Plaintiff could make no use of right arm, a total preclusion of reaching; and (2) the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of treating physician Dr. Will.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, "except the claimant can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding; cannot work around hazards; cannot make more than periodical overhead use of her right arm; and requires a sit/stand option."
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of Dr. Will, her treating physician. Dr. Will rendered an opinion in a December 12, 2011 note, that Plaintiff "is still having significant issues with her ankle that she has had multiple surgeries on; therefore cannot work on her feet at all. She also has issues with her left shoulder that she injured and has had surgeries on. She is unable to work over her head with this." Dr. Will also submitted a Medical Source Statement dated May 4, 2012, a checklist form on which Dr. Will indicated, in pertinent part, that Plaintiff: could lift or carry five pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally; stand or walk less than fifteen minutes continuously; stand or walk less than one hour in an eight hour workday; sit continuously less than thirty minutes at a time and less than two hours total in an eight hour workday; push or pull limited to two to three times an hour; and reach, handle, finger or feel occasionally. Dr. Will further opined that Plaintiff would need to lie down or ...