United States District Court, D. Kansas
LAURA E. PLUTE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Crow, U.S. District Senior Judge.
an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying the plaintiff disability insurance
benefits. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties.
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
April 14, 2015, administrative law judge (ALJ) Michael D.
Shilling issued his decision (R. at 20-26). Plaintiff alleges
that she has been disabled since April 1, 2012 (R. at 20).
Plaintiff is insured for disability insurance benefits
through March 31, 2014 (R. at 22). At step one, the ALJ found
that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date (R. 22). At step two,
the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have any severe
impairments or combination of impairments (R. at 22).
Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled
(R. at 26).
Does substantial evidence support the ALJ's finding at
step two that plaintiff does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments?
argues that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's finding at step two. The burden of proof at step
two is on the plaintiff. See Nielson v. Sullivan,
992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993)(the claimant bears the
burden of proof through step four of the analysis). A
claimant's showing at step two that he or she has a
severe impairment has been described as “de
minimis.” Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162,
1169 (10th Cir. 1997); see Williams v. Bowen, 844
F.2d 748, 751 (10th Cir. 1988)(“de minimis showing of
medical severity”). A claimant need only be able to
show at this level that the impairment would have more than a
minimal effect on his or her ability to do basic work
activities. Williams, 844 F.2d at 751.
However, the claimant must show more than the mere presence
of a condition or ailment. If the medical severity of a
claimant's impairments is so slight that the impairments
could not interfere with or have a serious impact on the
claimant's ability to do basic work activities, the
impairments do not prevent the claimant from engaging in
substantial work activity. Thus, at step two, the ALJ looks
at the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments only and determines the impact the impairment
would have on his or her ability to work. Hinkle v.
Apfel, 132 F.3d 1349, 1352 (10th Cir. 1997). A claimant
must provide medical evidence that he or she had an
impairment and how severe it was during the time the claimant
alleges they were disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(c),
85-28 (Medical impairments that are not severe) states the
A claim may be denied at step two only if the evidence shows
that the individual's impairments, when considered in
combination, are not medically severe, i.e., do not have more
than a minimal effect on the person's physical or mental
ability(ies) to perform basic work activities. If such a
finding is not clearly established by medical ...