United States District Court, D. Kansas
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, 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
September 8, 2016, administrative law judge (ALJ) Timothy G.
Stueve issued his decision (R. at 11-24). Plaintiff alleges
that she has been disabled since January 1, 2008 (R. at 11).
Plaintiff is insured for disability insurance benefits
through December 31, 2015 (R. at 13). At step one, the ALJ
found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity from her alleged onset date through the date last
insured (R. at 13). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff
has severe impairments (R. at 13). At step three, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff's impairments do not meet or
equal a listed impairment (R. at 14). After determining
plaintiff's RFC (R. at 15-16), the ALJ found at step four
that plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant work (R. at
21). At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff can perform
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy (R. at 22-23). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff was not disabled (R. at 23-24).
Did the ALJ err by ignoring evidence of plaintiff's
brief, plaintiff points out diagnoses of edema from November
2014 through May 2015 (R. at 537, 563, 597, 649, 650, 644,
643, 642, 662). Plaintiff testified on August 3, 2016 that
she would elevate her legs because of the swelling (R. at
49). A medical record from April 28, 2015 diagnosed edema and
stated that plaintiff should continue to keep feet elevated
when seated (R. at 642-643). Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ
erred by ignoring the evidence of plaintiff's edema.
decision, the ALJ acknowledged plaintiff's testimony that
plaintiff experienced lower extremity swelling that required
her to elevate her legs (R. at 16). Later, in his decision,
the ALJ cited to the opinion of Dr. Sankoorikal that
plaintiff did not need to elevate her legs with prolonged
sitting or standing (R. at 19, 632). The ALJ gave significant
weight to this opinion because Dr. Sankoorikal did not find
the presence of any edema that would support the need for
elevation throughout the day (R. at 19). On April 3, 2015,
the treatment notes of Dr. Sankoorikal stated that plaintiff
had “no edema” (R. at 620). Treatment notes from
May 12, 2015 also indicate “no edema” (R. at
court will not reweigh the evidence or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1173 (10th Cir. 2005);
White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 905, 908, 909 (10th
Cir. 2002). Although the court will not reweigh the evidence,
the conclusions reached by the ALJ must be reasonable and
consistent with the evidence. See Glenn v. Shalala,
21 F.3d 983, 988 (10th Cir. 1994)(the court must affirm if,
considering the evidence as a whole, there is sufficient
evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion). The court can only review the
sufficiency of the evidence. Although the evidence may
support a contrary finding, the court cannot displace the
agency's choice ...