United States District Court, D. Kansas
KIM Y. AMES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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 Kim Ames's applications for a period of disability and disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,  and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Because the Court finds that Defendant Commissioner's findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the Court reverses and remands the decision of Defendant Commissioner.
I. Procedural History
On June 28, 2010, Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Her applications claimed an onset date of August 1, 2009; and she was last insured for disability insurance benefits on December 31, 2013. Plaintiff's applications were 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 August 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically "severe" impairments: internal derangement of the right knee, arthroscopic decompression of the right shoulder; left heel spur, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step three that she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equal a listing.
But Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") at step four based on his failure to properly weigh the medical opinions, failure to provide a "narrative bridge" linking the medical evidence with the limitations, and based on the RFC not being supported by substantial evidence in the record.
A. The ALJ's RFC Determination
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, including: lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, below shoulder level; stand and/or walk as well as sit, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours out of an eight-hour workday; unlimited pushing and/or pulling other than as indicated for lifting and/or carrying below shoulder level. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff can occasionally climb stairs and ramps and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; but that Plaintiff is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds and should avoid lifting over ten pounds ...