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Pinard v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 28, 2017

CAROL PINARD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. WATANABE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The government determined that Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. (AR[2] 25). Plaintiff has asked this Court to review that decision. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and both parties have agreed to have this case decided by a U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Docket No. 12).

         Standard of Review

         In Social Security appeals, the Court reviews the decision of the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074, 1075 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Raymond v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1271-72 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court “should, indeed must, exercise common sense” and “cannot insist on technical perfection.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court cannot reweigh the evidence or its credibility. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).

         Background

         At the second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequence for making determinations, [3] the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and borderline personality disorder.” (AR 16). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments” in the regulations. (AR 16). Because he concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertion levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: [Plaintiff] can perform unskilled work with occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public. She should work primarily with objects rather than people.

(AR 17). The ALJ determined that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform . . . .” (AR 24).

         Plaintiff asserts four reversible errors: first, that the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet the severity of the listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, App. 1, § 12.04; second, that the ALJ's determination regarding Plaintiff's credibility was not supported by substantial evidence; third, that the ALJ failed to give the proper weight to Dr. Grovert's opinion; and fourth, that the ALJ erred by concluding that there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Docket No. 14 at 2).

         Analysis

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred when considering the listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, App. 1, § 12.04 9 (“Listings”). Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that “Listing 12.04 Paragraph C applies [ ] and any finding by the ALJ other than one that [Plaintiff] meets or equals the Listing 12.04C is not supported by substantial evidence.” (Docket No. 14 at 31).

         For the relevant period, Listing 12.04 required Plaintiff to either meet the requirements in both paragraphs A and B or to meet the requirements in paragraph C. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, App. § 12.04 (effective Feb. 26, 2014 through Dec. 8, 2014). The ALJ first considered paragraph B and then considered paragraph C. (AR 16-17). The ALJ concluded that “[i]n this case, the evidence fails to establish the presence of the ‘paragraph C' criteria.” (AR 17). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ “made no findings . . . except to state that he had considered it, to summarize its requirements, and to state that there was no evidence that they applied.” (Docket No. 18 at 4).

         For an ALJ to find that a severe impairment conclusively disables a claimant at Step 3, the impairment must be “equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751 (10th Cir. 1988) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d)). “If the impairment is listed and thus conclusively presumed to be disabling, the claimant is entitled to benefits.” Id. “For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original).

         The ALJ must make his Step 3 determination solely on medical evidence. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526(b). “[T]he step three analysis requires a comparison of medical evidence regarding symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings with the listed impairment sought to be established or the listed impairment most similar to the claimant's.” Larson v. Chater, No. 95-2194, 1996 WL 709848, at *1 (10th Cir. Dec.10, 1996). However, “an ALJ's findings at other steps of the sequential process may provide a proper basis for upholding a step three ...


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