United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. THOMAS MARTEN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Frederick Taylor seeks review of a final decision by defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his 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.
On February 2, 2012, plaintiff filed for DIB under the Act, alleging disability beginning December 1, 2010. His claims were based on a number of physical and mental conditions. His claims were initially denied on March 13, 2012, and again on reconsideration on May 9, 2012. Pursuant to plaintiff's timely request, a hearing was held before an ALJ on October 17, 2012.
At the hearing, plaintiff testified that his inflammatory bowel disease ("IBD") causes him extreme gas pain, flatulence, burping, loose stool, and five to six restroom visits during each day. He also testified that his IBD flares up for a day or two one or two times per month, requiring ten to twelve bathroom visits per day. He also testified that his diabetes and sleep apnea were controlled medically.
In a decision dated November 2, 2012, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled and had an RFC to perform sedentary work. The ALJ considered plaintiff's IBD and other physical and mental limitations, including knee and back pain, sleep apnea, diabetes, and anxiety. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal, alleging that the ALJ failed to properly consider plaintiff's IBD symptoms when determining his RFC.
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 he can "establish that [he] 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 medically severe impairment or combination of 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 his 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 his age, education, and work experience." Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (brackets omitted).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to find that plaintiff's IBD is a severe impairment and (2) failing to evaluate the credibility of plaintiff's subjective complaints of limitations caused by IBD.
Plaintiff's argument that the ALJ erred at step two by failing to find that plaintiff's IBD is a severe impairment is irrelevant because the ALJ proceeded beyond step two. The ALJ satisfies the requirements of step two if he determines that the claimant has a severe impairment and proceeds to step three. Oldham v Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1256-57 (10th Cir. 2007). Here, the ALJ determined that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of obesity and ...