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Romig v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 29, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MONTI L. BELOT, District Judge.

This is an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties and the court is prepared to rule. (Docs. 11, 14).

I. General Legal Standards

The court's standard of review is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides that "the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." The court should review the Commissioner's decision to determine only whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is satisfied by such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion. The determination of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision is not simply a quantitative exercise, for evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence or if it really constitutes mere conclusion. Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989). Although the court is not to reweigh the evidence, the findings of the Commissioner will not be mechanically accepted. Nor will the findings be affirmed by isolating facts and labeling them substantial evidence, as the court must scrutinize the entire record in determining whether the Commissioner's conclusions are rational. Graham v. Sullivan, 794 F.Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The court should examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the Commissioner's decision and, on that basis, determine if the substantiality of the evidence test has been met. Glenn, 21 F.3d at 984.

The Social Security Act provides that an individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if the claimant can establish that they have a physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The claimant's physical or mental impairment or impairments must be of such severity that they are not only unable to perform their previous work but cannot, considering their age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine disability. If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the Commissioner will not review the claim further. At step one, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant can show that he or she is not working at a "substantial gainful activity." At step two, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that he or she has a "severe impairment, " which is defined as any "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." At step three, the agency determines whether the impairment which enabled the claimant to survive step two is on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the inquiry proceeds to step four, at which the agency assesses whether the claimant can do his or her previous work; unless the claimant shows that he or she cannot perform their previous work, they are determined not to be disabled. If the claimant survives step four, the fifth and final step requires the agency to consider vocational factors (the claimant's age, education, and past work experience) and to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Barnhart v. Thomas, 124 S.Ct. 376, 379-380 (2003).

The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the analysis. Nielson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (1993). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in the national economy. Nielson, 992 F.2d at 1120; Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). The Commissioner meets this burden if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Thompson, 987 F.2d at 1487. Before going from step three to step four, the agency will assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). This RFC assessment is used to evaluate the claim at both step four and step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); 404.1520(f, g).

II. History of Case

On April 17, 2013, administrative law judge (ALJ) Michael Shilling issued his decision. (R. at 6-26). Plaintiff alleged that her[1] disability began December 31, 2009. (R. at 9). At step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date (R. at 11). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizoaffective disorder (R. at 12). At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment (R. at 13-14). After establishing plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found at step four that plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work (R. at 19). At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff would be able to perform other work which exists in significant numbers and therefore concluded that plaintiff was not disabled at any time. (R. at 20-21).

III. Analysis

A. Treatment Team and Canterbury's Opinions

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not give a legitimate reason to discount the treatment team or Canterbury's opinions. The ALJ determined plaintiff's RFC was as follows:

Full range of work at all exertional levels. However, she is limited to no interaction and cooperation with the general public. She may work in proximity to others, but she is limited to jobs that do not require close cooperation and interaction with coworkers, in that she would work best in relative isolation. She may do simple tasks, but she is limited to job [sic] that do not demand attention to details or complicated job tasks or instructions. She retains the ability to maintain attention and concentration for a minimum of 2-hour periods of time, adapt to changes in workplace on a basic level, and accept supervision on a basic level.

(Tr. 15).

In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ considered plaintiff's medical records and opinions from Kenneth Burstin, Ph.D., Carol L. Adams, Psy.D., Dr. Stanley Mintz, Tammy Canterbury, APRN, and plaintiff's treatment team at Elizabeth Layton Center. Plaintiff's treatment team included Robin Burgess, LSCSW, Tammy ...

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