United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Crow, U.S. District Senior Judge
an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying the plaintiff supplemental security
income payments. The matter has been fully briefed by the
General legal standards
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.
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.
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).
claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the
analysis. Nielson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120
(10thCir. 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.
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(e, f, g); 416.920(a)(4), 416.920(e, f, g).
History of case
12, 2014, administrative law judge (ALJ) Michael D. Shilling
issued his decision (R. at 13-19). Plaintiff alleges that she
has been disabled since August 23, 2012 (R. at 13). At step
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the application date of
August 23, 2012 (R. at 15). At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had medically determinable impairments (R. at 15),
but further determined that plaintiff does not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments (R. at 15). In the
alternative, at step four, the ALJ concluded that even if
plaintiff was limited to light work due to a combination of
her impairments, she could still perform past relevant work
(R. at 18). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was
not disabled (R. at 19).
Did the ALJ err in finding that plaintiff's arthralgia
was not a medically determinable impairment?
argues that the ALJ's finding that plaintiff's
arthralgia was not a medically determinable impairment was
erroneous (Doc. 11 at 7). In his decision, the ALJ stated
that through February 2013, the claimant was noted to have
only “arthralgia” and no medically determinable
musculoskeletal or rheumatologic diagnosis was ever given.
Therefore, the ALJ found that the claimant has no medically
determinable impairment related to her complaints of joint
pain (R. at 17).
impairment must result from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, and
must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs,
symptoms, and laboratory findings. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 416.908. Evidence to establish a medically
determinable impairment must come from acceptable medical
sources. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513(a), 416.913(a).
treating physician diagnosed plaintiff with arthralgia on
numerous occasions (R. at 191-192, 194-195, 196-197, 198-199,
261-262, 263-264). As set forth above, the ALJ mentioned that
plaintiff was noted to have arthralgia,  but that no
medically determinable musculoskeletal or rheumatologic
diagnosis was ever given; therefore the ALJ concluded that
the plaintiff has no medically determinable impairment
related to her complaints of joint pain. Defendant argues
that arthralgia, or joint pain, is not an impairment, but a
symptom that can be caused by numerous impairments (Doc. 12
at 4). However, the citation provided by the defendant in
support of this argument does not state that arthralgia is
not an impairment, but a symptom. This article on ...