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Medina v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 27, 2018

KENDRA MEDINA, 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 Kendra Medina on September 27, 2016. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 24, 2013, plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. R. at 11. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since October 18, 2012. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 21, 2015. Id. On May 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. R. at 20. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity and chronic low back pain due to degenerative disc disease, with exacerbation secondary to status post multiple steroid injections. R. at 13. The ALJ concluded that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, R. at 14, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant must be able to sit and stand at will. The claimant can stand or walk 20-30 minutes and would be able to sit about 30 minutes, sitting cumulatively would be up to 5 hours in an eight-hour day, and standing or walking would be up to 5 hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant would not be off task during the shifting of position. She can never kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb stairs, ramps, and stoop. She is not capable of driving or commercial driving. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, avoid even moderate exposure to vibration, unprotected heights, and hazardous or moving machinery. She would likely need to lie down during the lunch hour for 20-30 minutes, wherever allowable, in her private car or in an employee break room.

Id. Plaintiff has no past relevant work. R. at 18. Based upon the 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, including cashier II, assembler, and order clerk. R. at 19.

         On July 29, 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. ANALYSIS

         A. 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).

         B. 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 ...


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