United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE.
Tiffany Berry protectively filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Her claims were
denied by the Social Security Administration. She then
requested and received an evidentiary hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Plaintiff testified at the
hearing on November 5, 2014, before ALJ Susan W. Conyers in
Wichita, Kansas. Vocational expert Cynthia A. Younger also
testified. The ALJ issued a written opinion on June 17, 2015,
finding plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Act because she retained the capacity to perform several
sedentary jobs. Plaintiff appeals, arguing the ALJ committed
a number of errors, including by erroneously finding that
plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet a listed
impairment, by determining a residual functional capacity
(RFC) that was not supported by substantial evidence, and by
erroneously assessing medical opinions. For the reasons that
follow, the court concludes the decision of the Commissioner
should be affirmed.
the Act, the court must accept the factual findings of the
Commissioner if they are supported by substantial evidence.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court accordingly looks to
whether the factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standard. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th
Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence” means
“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.” Barkley v.
Astrue, No. 09-1163-JTM, 2010 WL 3001753, *1 (D. Kan.
July 28, 2010) (citing Castellano v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir.
1994)). In making this determination, the court must
“neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its]
judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Bowman v.
Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
933 F.3d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991)).
claimant is disabled if she suffers from a physical or mental
impairment which stops her “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.” Brennan v. Astrue, 501 F.Supp.2d
1303, 1306-07 (D. Kan. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)). This impairment “must be severe enough that
she is unable to perform her past relevant work, and further
cannot engage in other substantial gainful work existing in
the national economy, considering her age, education, and
work experience.” Barkley, 2010 WL 3001753, *2
(citing Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 217-22
to the Act, the Social Security Administration has
established a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether an individual is disabled. Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). 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 is unnecessary.
Barkley, 2010 WL 3001753, at *2. The first three
steps 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 impairments meets or equals a
designated list of impairments. Lax v. Astrue, 489
F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007); see also Barkley,
2010 WL 3001753, *2 (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844
F.2d 748, 751 (10th Cir. 1988)). If the impairment does not
meet or equal a designated impairment, 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 her impairments.” Barkley,
2010 WL 3001753, *2; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 404.1545. Upon determining the claimant's
residual functional capacity, the Commissioner moves on to
steps four and five, which require a determination of whether
the claimant can either perform his past relevant work or can
perform other work that exists in the national economy.
Barkley, 2010 WL 3001753, *2 (citing
Williams, 844 F.2d at 751).
claimant bears the burden at steps one through four to prove
a disability that prevents performance of her past relevant
work. Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084. The burden then shifts
to the Commissioner at step five to show that, despite the
impairments, the claimant can perform other work in the
national economy. Id. See Weir v. Colvin, No.
15-1300-JTM, 2016 WL 6164313, at *1-2 (D. Kan. Oct. 24,
2016). See Johnston v. Berryhill, No. 16-2342-JTM,
2017 WL 1738037, at *1-2 (D. Kan. May 4, 2017).
Summary of ALJ ruling.
was born in 1972, making her 40 years old as of June 6, 2012,
the alleged onset date. The ALJ found that plaintiff was
insured under the Act through March 31, 2013. At the first
step of the sequential process, the ALJ found that although
plaintiff had performed some work after the alleged onset
date, it did not rise to the level of substantial gainful
activity. At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: bilateral knee
osteoarthritis; obesity; delusional disorder and
schizophrenia, paranoid type; anxiety disorder; mood disorder
and schizoaffective disorder. At step three, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed in the
next determined plaintiff's RFC, finding plaintiff could
perform sedentary work as defined in the regulations, except
she can rarely climb ramps and stairs (no more than one sixth
of the workday); should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; could occasionally balance and stoop but should
avoid kneeling, crouching, and crawling; avoid concentrated
exposure to vibration or even a moderate exposure to hazards
including unprotected height and hazardous machinery; unable
to traverse an upward incline; she will occasionally require
the use of a cane; she can perform simple and some
intermediate tasks not requiring complex or detailed
independent planning or goal setting and involving no more
than occasional, superficial interaction with the general
public, coworkers, and supervisors; and she would do better
working with things and data than with people.
four of the sequential process, the ALJ determined plaintiff
was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Finally,
at step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the
vocational expert to find plaintiff could perform jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
including bonder of electronic components, document preparer,
and patcher (or wire wrapper). The ALJ thus determined that
plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
Whether plaintiff meets mental impairment listings.
contends the ALJ erroneously found plaintiff's mental
impairments did not meet or exceed the impairments listed in
20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, specifically
§ 12.03 (schizophrenia and psychotic disorders), §
12.04 (depressive and bipolar disorders), and § 12.06
(anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders). Plaintiff
argues the findings of psychologist T.A. Moeller, Ph.D., show
that plaintiff had marked restrictions in social functioning
and in maintaining concentration, ...