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Rogers v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Kansas

May 13, 2015

Gidget L. Rogers, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



Plaintiff Gidget L. Rogers 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 denying DIB because the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to properly consider medical source opinions and plaintiff’s credibility when determining plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). As discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

I. Background

In May 2011, plaintiff applied for DIB alleging disability beginning January 22, 2010, due to fibromyalgia and mental impairments that included bipolar disorder, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). The State agency denied plaintiff’s claims on January 19, 2012, and upon reconsideration on June 25, 2012. A hearing was held before an ALJ on February 20, 2013. In a decision dated March 23, 2013, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; osteoarthritis of both hands; degenerative changes of the lumbar spine; bilateral plantar faciitis; right carpal tunnel syndrome; degenerative changes of the cervical spine; major depressive disorder occasionally diagnosed as having psychotic features; bipolar I disorder; and “an anxiety-related disorder diagnosed variously as [PTSD], panic disorder with agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder.” (Dkt. 10-2, at 16).

The ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to perform a range of light work requiring lifting or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, standing or walking for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He also determined that plaintiff can: occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; occasionally reach overhead; frequently finger and handle; perform simple tasks not performed in a fast-paced production environment or as an integral part of a team; and occasionally interact with the public. The ALJ determined that plaintiff must avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, cold temperature extremes, and vibration.

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, but that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. He therefore found that plaintiff was not disabled, as defined by the Act, from January 22, 2010, until the date of the decision. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision.

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 WL 3001753, at *2 (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).

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 her past relevant work. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084.

If, as here, 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 [her] age, education, ...

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