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North v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 14, 2015

SUSAN D. NORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
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 Susan North's applications for a period of disability and disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, [1] and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.[2] 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 February 16, 2011, Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Her applications claimed an onset date of January 1, 1996; at the administrative hearing, Plaintiff orally amended the onset date to February 16, 2010.[3] Plaintiff was last insured for disability insurance benefits on June 30, 2011. 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. ยง 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.[4] The Tenth Circuit has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[5] In the course of its review, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of Defendant.[6]

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."[7] 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."[8] The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled.[9] If the ALJ determines the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step along the way, the evaluation ends.[10]

Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's determination at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity[11] since February 16, 2010, [12] the amended alleged onset date. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically "severe" impairments: affective disorder and hypertension. 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: her failure to consider Plaintiff's non-severe impairment of fibromyalgia and the disabling pain it caused; and her giving "limited weight" to the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Laura DeGrandis but "great weight" to the opinions of Dr. Sallye Wilkinson and Dr. Carol Adams, the two state agency reviewing psychologists.

IV. Discussion

A. The ALJ's RFC Determination

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform medium work except she can perform simple and intermediate tasks, and she should have only ...


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