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Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 29, 2015

AARON SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

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 Aaron Smith's application for a period of disability and disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.[1] Because the Court finds that Defendant Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court affirms the decision of Defendant Commissioner.

I. Procedural History

On July 13, 2011, Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The ALJ determined that his evaluation of impairments prior to February 26, 2010, was precluded by res judicata because Plaintiff had filed previous applications for disability benefits and supplemental security income, which were denied in a decision that became final on February 25, 2010. Accordingly, for purposes of this action, the onset date is February 26, 2010. Plaintiff was last insured for disability insurance benefits on September 30, 2012. 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.[2] The Tenth Circuit has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[3] In the course of its review, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of Defendant.[4]

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."[5] 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."[6] The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled.[7] If the ALJ determines the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step along the way, the evaluation ends.[8]

Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's determination at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity[9] since February 26, 2010. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically "severe" impairments: a mood disorder secondary to general medical condition with dysthymia and chronic pain, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spines, arthritis of the knees, history of a partial amputation of the left heel, and loss of visual acuity in the right eye. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step three that he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equal a listing. But Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") at step four based on the ALJ's failure to properly assess the credibility of Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain.

IV. Discussion

A. ALJ's RFC

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) in that he can occasionally lift 10 pounds. The claimant can sit for approximately 6 hours and stand or walk for approximately 2 hours in an 8-hour day with normal breaks. The claimant remains able to frequently climb ramps or stairs, but he may never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant is able to occasionally balance on level surfaces, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. However, he must avoid exposure to extreme cold and extreme heat, humidity, and vibration, as well as workplace hazards such as unprotected machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant is able to perform work that requires only occasional near and far acuity and no more than occasional peripheral acuity with the right eye such that he is unable to perform work with objects appearing on a belt from the right hand side. ...

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