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Short v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 24, 2017

KENNETH SHORT, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Kenneth Short, Jr. seeks review of a final decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred (1) in assessing Plaintiff's residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) because he did not include all of Plaintiff's limitations, and (2) in finding that Plaintiff was not entirely credible. Having reviewed the record, and as described below, the Court affirms the order of the Commissioner.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Kenneth Short, Jr. was born on February 8, 1972. On November 16, 2012, Plaintiff protectively applied for disability and disability insurance benefits. On November 21, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed for supplemental security income. In both applications, he alleged that his disability began on October 26, 2012. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. He then asked for a hearing before an ALJ.

         ALJ James Harty conducted an administrative hearing on October 20, 2014. Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and he testified about his medical conditions. The ALJ also heard from a vocational expert.

         On January 15, 2015, the ALJ issued his written decision, finding that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features and anxiety disorder. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         The ALJ stated that Plaintiff had the RFC

to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can perform simple tasks, that are not performed in a fast-paced production environment, or as an integral part of a team, which involve only simple work-related decisions, and, in general, relatively few workplace changes. The claimant can tolerate occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public.

         The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. However, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could still perform. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from October 26, 2012 through the date of his decision.

         Given the unfavorable result, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request on June 13, 2016. Accordingly, the ALJ's January 2015 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. He seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand. Because Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies available, this Court has jurisdiction to review the decision.

         II. Legal Standard

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is guided by the Social Security Act (the “Act”) which provides, in part, that the “findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”[1] The Court must therefore determine whether the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard.[2] “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; in short, it is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion.”[3] The Court may “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].”[4]

         An individual is under a disability only if he can “establish that []he has a physical or mental impairment which prevents h[im] 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.”[5] This impairment “must be severe enough that []he is unable to perform h[is] past relevant work, and further cannot engage in other substantial gainful work existing in the national economy, considering h[is] age, education, and work experience.”[6]

         Pursuant to the Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled.[7] The steps are designed to be followed in order. If it is determined, at any step of the evaluation process, that the claimant is or is not disabled, further evaluation under a subsequent step is unnecessary.[8]

         The first three steps of the sequential evaluation 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 severe, or combination of severe, impairments; and (3) whether the severity of those severe impairments meets or equals a designated list of impairments.[9] If the impairment does not meet or equal one of these designated impairments, the ALJ must then determine the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is the claimant's ability “to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments.”[10]

         Upon assessing the claimant's residual functional capacity, the Commissioner moves on to steps four and five, which require the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant can either perform his past relevant work or whether he can generally perform other work that exists in the national economy, respectively.[11] The claimant bears the burden in steps one through four to prove a disability that prevents performance of his past relevant work.[12] The burden then shifts to the Commissioner at step ...

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