Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

T.A.B. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 2, 2019

T.A.B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Sam A. Crow, U.S. District Senior Judge.

         On September 3, 2015, plaintiff filed an application for social security disability insurance benefits. The application alleged a disability onset date of October 31, 2010. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was conducted on November 14, 2017. The administrative law judge (ALJ) considered the evidence and decided on February 15, 2018 that plaintiff was not qualified to receive benefits. This decision has been adopted by defendant. This case is now before the court upon plaintiff's request to reverse and remand the decision to deny plaintiff's application for benefits.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she was “disabled” under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E), during the time when the claimant had “insured status” under the Social Security program. See Potter v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 905 F.2d 1346, 1347 (10th Cir. 1990); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.130, 404.131. To be “disabled” means that the claimant is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence” is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Wilson v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010)(internal quotation marks omitted). “It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The court must examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the defendant's decision, and on that basis decide if substantial evidence supports the defendant's decision. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994) (quoting Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991)). The court may not reverse the defendant's choice between two reasonable but conflicting views, even if the court would have made a different choice if the matter were referred to the court de novo. Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION (Tr. 12-18).

         There is a five-step evaluation process followed in these cases which is described in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 13-14). The ALJ decided that plaintiff's claim failed at the second step of the process. In other words, the ALJ decided that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that she had a “severe” impairment or a combination of impairments which are “severe” prior to her date last insured.

         The ALJ decided that plaintiff had the following impairments: mild carpel tunnel syndrome, hypothyroidism, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, depression and anxiety. But, he concluded that plaintiff's impairments did not significantly limit her ability to perform basic work activities during the time period relevant to her claim.

         III. REMAND SHALL BE ORDERED BECAUSE OF A FAULTY STEP TWO ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's findings as to the severity of plaintiff's mental impairments are not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff's burden to show a severe impairment at step two has been characterized as “de minimis.” Cowan v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 1182, 1186 (10th Cir. 2008). “An impairment is not severe only if it ‘would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work, even if the individual's age, education, or work experience were specifically considered.'” Hill v. Chater, 99 F.3d 1149, 1996 WL 627325 *2 (10th Cir. 1996)(quoting SSR 85-28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3); see also Church v. Shalala, 1994 WL 139015 *2 (10th Cir. 4/19/94)(citing to SSR 85- 28 and describing step two as an administrative convenience to screen out claims that are totally groundless solely from a medical standpoint). “[R]easonable doubts on severity are to be resolved in favor of the claimant.” Owens v. Berryhill, 2017 WL 1881001 *3 (D.Kan. 5/9/2017). At the same time, “a showing of the mere presence of a condition is not sufficient” to show severity. Cowan, 552 F.3d at 1186. “An impairment is ‘not severe if it does not significantly limit [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.'” Warner v. Astrue, 338 Fed.Appx. 748, 750 (10th Cir. 2009)(quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a)). “Basic work activities are the ‘abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs' and include the facility to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; use judgment; respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work setting.” Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b)).

         Plaintiff's testimony supported a finding that she suffered from “severe” anxiety and depression. Plaintiff testified that she “wouldn't leave the house, ” had “panic attacks, ” felt “useless, ” could not do her job (drive a forklift) because of her medication (Xanax), and put off personal hygiene. (Tr. 33-36 & 42). Plaintiff's spouse also described panic attacks, forgetfulness and social isolation either from plaintiff's mental condition or as side effects from her medication. (Tr. 246-47). But, the ALJ discounted plaintiff's testimony and her husband's statement because they were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (Tr. 16 & 18).

         The ALJ noted that plaintiff was only prescribed medication by her primary care physician during the time period in question and that she did not receive treatment from a mental health specialist or undergo any type of therapy. (Tr. 16). He further commented that plaintiff was not treated in an emergency room for panic attacks. (Tr. 17). Also, he remarked that plaintiff was consistently noted as alert and oriented, with clear speech and good judgment and insight in the records of her doctor visits. (Tr. 17). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had only a mild limitation in understanding, remembering or applying information in part because her mental status examinations did not show any difficulty with her memory functioning. (Tr. 17). He determined that plaintiff had only a mild limitation interacting with others because she was able to relate appropriately to her health care providers and she was not documented to have significant anxiety or depression. (Tr. 17). The ALJ further concluded that plaintiff had only a mild limitation in concentrating, persisting or maintaining pace because her examination did not note any limitations in this area and because plaintiff reported that she could complete some tasks, like some household chores. (Tr. 17). Finally, he found that plaintiff had no limitation in adapting or managing herself because there was no evidence that she was unable to control her behavior. (Tr. 17).

         The ALJ gave minimal weight to the medical source statements from doctors who examined plaintiff because their reports were completed well after plaintiff's date last insured and did not discuss an onset date. (Tr. 18). At least two of these statements, although they post-date plaintiff's date last insured, indicate that plaintiff's anxiety and depression do substantially limit her basic work abilities. (Tr. 345-349).

         The court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and does not follow legal standards. The ALJ based his decision, in large part, upon plaintiff's treatment decisions. He discounted plaintiff's claims of panic attacks because she did not go to the emergency room. And he discounted plaintiff's and her husband's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.