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Marshal v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 14, 2015

LAURA MARSHAL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. THOMAS MARTEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Laura Marshal seeks review of a final decision by defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff alleges that the Commissioner erred in determining that she can perform light work because the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination was not supported by a sufficient narrative. As discussed below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

I. Background

Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB on February 24, 2011, alleging disability beginning January 11, 2011. She alleged that the illness, injuries, or conditions that limited her ability to work were: "1. Brain aneurysm 2. vertigo 3. dizzy spells 4. depression/anxiety 5. severe headaches 6. memory problems 7. can't concentrate or focus." (Dkt. 9-7, at 7). Plaintiff's claim was denied on June 9, 2011, and upon reconsideration on February 24, 2012. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On December 3, 2012, plaintiff appeared and testified before an ALJ. In a decision dated February 8, 2013, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.

The ALJ determined that plaintiff maintained sufficient RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967 with additional nonexertional limitations that were presented to the vocational expert present at the hearing. The ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, but found that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. The ALJ found that plaintiff was therefore not disabled within the meaning of the Act since February 24, 2011.

Plaintiff timely filed a request for rehearing, which was denied on March 27, 2014. The ALJ's decision therefore became the final decision of the Commissioner under 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), arguing that the ALJ's RFC determination was not supported by a sufficient narrative explanation.

II. Legal Standard

This court reviews the ALJ's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to "determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence is that which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance." Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). The court's role is not to "reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's." Cowan v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 1182, 1185 (10th Cir. 2008). The possibility that two inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence does not preclude a finding that the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence. Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200.

An individual is under a disability only if she can "establish that she has a physical or mental impairment which prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity and is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months." Brennan v. Astrue, 501 F.Supp.2d 1303, 1306-07 (D. Kan. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)). This impairment "must be severe enough that she is unable to perform her past relevant work, and further cannot engage in other substantial gainful work existing in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience." Barkley v. Astrue, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76220, at *3 (D. Kan. July 28, 2010) (citing Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 217-22 (2002)).

Pursuant to the Act, the Social Security Administration has prescribed a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether disability existed between the time of claimed onset and the date the claimant was last insured under the Act. Wilson, 602 F.3d at 1139; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the trier of fact finds at any point during the five steps that the claimant is disabled or not disabled, the analysis stops. Reyes v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 242, 243 (10th Cir. 1988). The first three steps require the Commissioner to assess: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset of the alleged disability; (2) whether the claimant has a severe or combination of severe impairments; and (3) whether the severity of those impairments meets or equals a listed impairment. Wilson, 602 F.3d at 1139 (citing Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007)). If the impairments do not meet or equal a designated listing in step three, the Commissioner then assesses the claimant's RFC based on all medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). RFC is the claimant's ability "to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from her impairments." Barkley, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76220, at *5; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545. "RFC is not the least an individual can do despite his or her limitations or restrictions, but the most. " SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2, 1996) (emphasis in original). The Commissioner then proceeds to step four, where the RFC assessment is used to determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work . Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The claimant bears the burden in steps one through four of proving disability that prevents performance of his past relevant work. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084.

If a claimant meets the burdens of steps one through four, "the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant retains sufficient RFC to perform work in the national economy, given his age, education, and work experience." Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (brackets omitted).

III. Analysis

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by sufficient narrative. Specifically, she argues that (1) the ALJ arbitrarily determined plaintiff's RFC, merely summarizing her findings rather than citing evidence in support thereof, (2) provided significant weight to the State Agency opinions without explanation, (3) provided zero weight to Dr. Lee Leinwetter's opinion without ...


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