United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. BROOMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an action reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying plaintiff disability benefits. The
matter has been fully briefed by the parties and the court is
prepared to rule. (Docs. 11, 12, 13.) The Commissioner's
decision is AFFIRMED for the reasons set forth herein.
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 Commissioner's
decision will be reviewed 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.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
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.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520; Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139
(10th Cir. 2010). 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.”
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir.
1988). At step two, the agency will find non-disability
unless the claimant shows that he or she has a severe
impairment. 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. Id. at 750-51. 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 and
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The 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(f),
(g). If a claimant shows that she cannot perform the previous
work, 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, 379-80 (2003).
claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the
analysis. Blea v. Barnhart, 466 F.3d 903, 907 (10th
Cir. 2006). At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work
that exists in the national economy. Id.;
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.
History of Case
filed applications for both Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income, alleging a disability beginning
October 20, 2011, when he was 43 years old. Plaintiff later
amended the onset date to January 9, 2014. (R. at 40.) On
July 20, 2016, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Alison K.
Brookins issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R.
determined at step two that Plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: depression and post-traumatic
stress disorder. (R. at 19.) At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment that
meets or exceeds the severity of a listed impairment. (R. at
19-21.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had only mild restrictions in activities of daily living and
moderate difficulties in both social functioning and
concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. at 20.)
four, the ALJ first determined Plaintiff's Residual
Functional Capacity (RFC) as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations: in that the
claimant can understand and remember simple and some
intermediate level ([SVP]3 and SVP4) instructions, and that
he has the ability to focus and persist at simple routine and
intermediate level tasks for an 8-hour day, but would have
difficulty with more complex and detailed tasks, particularly
those requiring sustained concentration for more than 2 hours
without a break. He should not work with the public, and can
have occasional co-worker contact.
(R. at 21.) In reaching these conclusions, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms he alleged
(including lack of motivation, feelings of being overwhelmed,
tearfulness, and others) but his statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms
were not entirely consistent with the medical and other
evidence. (R. at 22.) The ALJ noted Plaintiff's history
of treatment for depression and anxiety, but found the
symptoms were responsive to and well-controlled by medication
and therapy. (Id.)
also reviewed the various medical source and other opinions
in the record, giving great weigh to the opinions of a state
agency medical consultant (Edna P. Toubes-Klingler, M.D.) and
state agency psychological consultant (Charles Fantz, Ph.D.).
Dr. Toubes-Klingler opined that Plaintiff had no severe
physical impairments. Dr. Fantz's opinions concerning
Plaintiff's mental functional abilities were incorporated
into the above RFC. The ALJ also considered medical source
statements by Plaintiff's nurse practitioner (Patricia
Harris, APRN) and psychiatrist (Rex Lear, MD), as well as
opinions of Plaintiff's case management worker (Steve
Passeri) and parole officer (Vicki LeFever), and an opinion
provided by Plaintiff's sister (Deborah Johnson). As to
each opinion, the ALJ stated the amount of weight she gave to
it and the basis for doing so. The ALJ went on to find at
step four that, given the above RFC and Plaintiff's
circumstances, he was not able to perform his past relevant
work. (R. at 27.)
at step five, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the ability to
perform jobs that exist in substantial numbers in the
national economy, including Kitchen Helper (DOT 318.687-010),
Hand Packager (DOT 920.587-018), and Laundry Laborer (DOT
361.687-018), all of which are unskilled, medium exertional
occupations at the SVP2 level. (R. at 28.) The ALJ thus
concluded Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Act. Plaintiff's request for review of ...