United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MONTI L. BELOT, District Judge.
This is an action reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff disability insurance benefits.
I. General Legal Standards
The court's standard of review is contained in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in part that "[t]he 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 as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion. The determination is not simply a quantitative exercise, for evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence or if it really constitutes a 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 she has a physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months which prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The claimant's physical or mental impairment or impairments must be of such severity that she is not only unable to perform her previous work but cannot, considering her 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).
Five-step evaluation. 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 she is not working at a "substantial gainful activity." At step two, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that 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 her previous work. Unless the claimant shows that she cannot perform her previous work, she is 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, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25 (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 the case
Plaintiff initially alleged a disability beginning in July 1999, but later amended her claim to allege an onset date of October 25, 2010. Following a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Judson Scott denied her claim in a written decision issued January 28, 2013. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.
The ALJ found at step one that plaintiff was not currently engaging in substantial gainful activity. At step two, he found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis; lumbar degenerative disk disease; H. Pylori infection; and erosive gastritis. At step three, the ALJ determined that none of plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the impairments listed in the regulations.
The ALJ next found that plaintiff "has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except with no concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold or humidity." Doc. 9 at 21.
At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff has no past relevant work. At step five, he found that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience (together with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines) and RFC, there are jobs that exist in ...