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Purkey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 22, 2018

DAWN G. PURKEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint [Docket No. 1] filed by plaintiff Dawn G. Purkey on October 17, 2016. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83c. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 26, 2013, plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. R. at 11. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since December 15, 2012. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 5, 2015. Id. On April 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. R. at 19. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative changes of the lumbar spine, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and left de Quervain's syndrome. R. at 13. The ALJ concluded that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id. at 14, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can lift 10 pounds frequently and 15 pounds occasionally; can stand, sit and walk for 6 out of 8 hours, each; can push and pull with the lower extremities within the exertional range stated for lifting and carrying on an occasional basis; is limited to occasional pushing and pulling of 10 pounds with the upper extremities; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps; cannot balance; can occasionally stoop, kneel and crouch; cannot crawl; can frequently handle and finger bilaterally; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, humidity and wetness; should avoid all exposure to unprotected heights or unprotected major manufacturing machinery; and the claimant is limited to semi-skilled work.

R. at 14-15. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R. at 18. Specifically, the VE identified three positions that plaintiff could perform: gate guard, general office clerk, and self service station attendant. Id.; see also R. at 41-42. Each of these positions is performed at a light exertional level and is classified as semiskilled, with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) level of three. R. at 18.

         On August 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's denial of her claim. R. at 1. Given the Appeals Council's denial, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Review of the Commissioner's finding that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). The district court may not reverse an ALJ simply because the court may have reached a different result based on the record; the question instead is whether there is substantial evidence showing that the ALJ was justified in her decision. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007). Moreover, “[e]vidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The district court will not “reweigh the evidence or retry the case, ” but must “meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070. Nevertheless, “if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence.” Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).

         III. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months that prevents the claimant from performing any substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)-(2). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (2006). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988). The steps of the evaluation are:

(1) whether the claimant is currently working; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the relevant regulation; (4) whether the impairment precludes the claimant from doing his past relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment precludes the claimant from doing any work.

Trimiar v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1326, 1329 (10th Cir. 1992) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f)). A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Sec'y ofHealth ...


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