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Coss v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 10, 2017

SHERYL L. COSS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Sheryl L. Coss claims that she became disabled on June 3, 2013. She suffers from heart problems, diabetes, an aneurysm, depression, elbow problems, eye problems, and sleep apnea. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 2013, after undergoing coronary bypass surgery. She filed this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., requesting disability benefits.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that plaintiff was not disabled in a decision issued in November 2015, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in several ways: (1) he failed to properly weigh the medical opinions; (2) he unreasonably discounted plaintiff's credibility; and (3) he improperly held that she was capable of returning to her past work. After reviewing the record, the court makes the following rulings.

         I. Legal Standard

         This court applies a two-pronged review to the ALJ's decision: (1) Are the factual findings supported by substantial evidence in the record? (2) Did the ALJ apply the correct legal standards? Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence” is a term of art. It means “more than a mere scintilla” and “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Hunter v. Astrue, 321 F. App'x 789, 792 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007)). When evaluating whether the standard has been met, the court is limited; it may not reweigh the evidence or replace the ALJ's judgment with its own. Bellamy v. Massanari, 29 F. App'x 567, 569 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 337 (10th Cir. 1995)). On the other hand, the court must examine the entire record-including any evidence that may detract from the decision of the ALJ. Jaramillo v. Massanari, 21 F. App'x 792, 794 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994)).

         Plaintiff bears the burden of proving disability. Hunter, 321 F. App'x at 792. A disability requires an impairment-physical or mental-that causes one to be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Id. (quoting Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 217 (2002)). Impairment, as defined under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), is a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” The ALJ uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). But the ALJ may stop once he makes a disability determination; he does not need to continue through subsequent steps if he is able to find a claimant disabled or not disabled at an intermediate step. Id.

         The components of the five-step process are:

. Step One: The plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment activity. Id. If the plaintiff meets this burden, then the ALJ moves to Step Two.
. Step Two: The plaintiff must demonstrate that she has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments” that severely limits her ability to do work. Id. (internal quotation omitted).
o If the plaintiffs impairments have no more than a minimal effect on her ability to do work, then the ALJ can make a nondisability determination at this step.
o If the plaintiff makes a sufficient showing that her impairments are more than minimal, then the ALJ moves to Step Three.
. Step Three: The ALJ compares the impairment to the “listed impairments”-impairments that the Secretary of Health and Human Services recognizes as severe enough to preclude substantial gainful activity. Id. . At 751.
o If the impairments) match one on the list, then the ALJ makes a disability finding. Id.
o If an impairment is not listed, the ALJ moves to Step Four of the ...

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