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Kingsley v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 22, 2015

EARL. W. KINGSLEY, Plaintiff,


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 Earl Kingsley's application for supplemental security income under Title XVI 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 June 6, 2011, Plaintiff protectively applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on October 1, 1999. Later, with counsel present, at the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff amended the onset date to June 6, 2013. Plaintiff's application was 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 June 6, 2011, the initially alleged onset date. Nor does Plaintiff challenge the ALJ's determination at step two that Plaintiff has medically "severe" impairments: osteroarthritis and joint dysfunction, bladder tumor, anxiety disorder, affective disorder, and alcohol and substance addiction disorders. And Plaintiff does not expressly challenge the ALJ's determination at step three that none of his impairments or combination of impairments meet or equal a listing.

But Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's determination of his residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work with certain restrictions, albeit at less than the full range of medium work. And, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's ultimate determination that Plaintiff is not disabled.

IV. Discussion

Plaintiff, who is pro se, raises challenges to the ALJ's decision that are largely based on Plaintiff's misunderstanding of the sequential analysis, standards and rules of law pertaining to social security disability. Because Plaintiff proceeds pro se, the Court recognizes that it must construe Plaintiff's pleadings liberally and apply a less stringent standard than that which is applicable to attorneys.[10] However, the Court may not provide additional factual allegations "to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf."[11] And, a pro se litigant is not excused from complying with the rules of the court and is subject to the consequences of noncompliance.[12]

Plaintiff raises several types of arguments, which the Court will address in turn. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is inconsistent, because at step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments, yet at other steps, found that Plaintiff's impairments are not as severe as Plaintiff claims, that Plaintiff can perform medium work, that Plaintiff is employable, and that Plaintiff is not disabled. Plaintiff misunderstands the scope of the determination at step 2 of the sequential evaluation process, for a finding at step 2 does not imply any specific work-related restrictions for RFC purposes.[13] Furthermore, Plaintiff misunderstands that in determining whether someone is disabled, the ALJ determines whether, given the claimant's age, education, work experience and RFC, he either can perform past relevant work, or has acquired work skills from past relevant work that are transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy; the ALJ is not required to consider whether there is a specific employer or a specific job for the claimant.[14] And, in arguing that the ALJ inconsistently found that Plaintiff can perform medium work, but not the full range of medium work, Plaintiff misunderstands that when a claimant has non-exertional limitations, as well as exertional limitations, the ALJ may properly find that the claimant can do a certain category of work, but not the full range of work within that category. "Where nonexertional limitations affect the range of work of which a plaintiff is capable, the grids may serve only as a framework to assist in determining whether sufficient jobs exist in the national economy given plaintiff's limitations and characteristics."[15]

Second, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ placed more weight on the opinions of the state agency consultant psychologists rather than the opinion of Dr. Knapp, a psychologist who actually examined him. While Plaintiff does not further develop this argument, the Court has reviewed the ALJ's decision and the record and is satisfied that the ALJ ...

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