United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. BROOMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
seeks review of a final decision by the Commissioner of
Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for
social security disability benefits. The matter has been
fully briefed and is ripe for decision. (Docs. 9, 12, 13.)
For the reasons set forth herein, the Commissioner's
decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.
Standard of Review
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 as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the
conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
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 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
agency 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). At step four, the agency must determine
whether the claimant can perform previous work. 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, 379-380 (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. See L.S. v. Saul, No. 19-1075-JWB,
2019 WL 5455822, at *1-2 (D. Kan. Oct. 24, 2019).
Background and Procedural History
filed an application for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act and an application for
supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. (Tr.
at 232, 234.) Both applications alleged a disability
beginning September 26, 2014, when Plaintiff was 48 years
old. (Id.) The claims were denied both initially and
upon reconsideration by the Commissioner, after which
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ). ALJ Susan Toth conducted a hearing in Wichita,
Kansas, on February 13, 2017. (Tr. at 36.) Plaintiff
testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Cindy A.
Younger. Additional information was gathered and submitted
from several sources after the hearing, including from a
consultative medical examination requested by the ALJ.
(See Exhs. 17F-21F.) The ALJ issued an opinion
unfavorable to Plaintiff on April 6, 2018. (Tr. at 7.)
first concluded Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. at
13.) At step one of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”) since September 26, 2014, the alleged
onset date, because pay stubs shows Plaintiff had earnings
above the threshold monthly SGA levels from June of 2016,
when he began a job at Rubbermaid, through January of 2017.
two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: polymyalgia/polyarthralgia, chronic pain
syndrome, depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and
cognitive disorder. (Tr. at 13.) The ALJ noted a history of
other conditions, including hypothyroidism, headache, B
complex deficiencies, anorexia, anemia, and alcohol abuse,
but found no functional limitations from these conditions.
(Id.) The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff's
treating physician, Bryan K. Dennett, M.D., had diagnosed
Plaintiff with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction
syndrome in January of 2017, but the ALJ found these were not
medically determinable impairments because “these
diagnoses are not accompanied with any corresponding
objective testing or laboratory results.”
three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled the severity of an impairment listed in the
regulations. (Id. at 14.) With respect to
Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ found they did
not satisfy the “paragraph B” criteria of the
listings in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1, §§
12.02 or 12.04 because Plaintiff had only moderate (rather
than marked) limitations in the functional categories covered
by paragraph B. (Tr. at 14-15.) The ALJ further found
Plaintiff did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. at
next determined that Plaintiff's RFC was as follows: he
can perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b); can occasionally lift and carry
up to 100 pounds and can frequently lift and carry up to 20
pounds; can sit for 6 hours at one time without interruption
for a total of 7 hours in an 8-hour workday; can stand for 3
hours at one time without interruption for a total of 4 hours
in an 8-hour workday; can walk for 2 hours at one time for a
total of 3 hours in an 8-hour workday; can frequently reach
in all directions including overhead; can frequently handle,
finger, feel and push/pull with the upper extremities; can
frequently operate foot controls; can occasionally climb
ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes or scaffolds and occasionally
balance; can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can
frequently operate a motor vehicle and be exposed to humidity
and wetness, extreme cold, extreme heat and vibrations; can
perform simple, routine and repetitive work but not as an
integral part of a team and not at a fast-paced production
rate; can occasionally make simple work-related decisions and
occasionally interact with supervisors and co-workers but may
not interact with the general public. (Tr. at 15-16.)
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff
could not perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. at 22.)
At step five, the ALJ found there were unskilled jobs in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform at the light exertional level such as collator
operator, marker/tagger, and sub-assembler of electrical