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Corral v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 23, 2018

PAT R. CORRAL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEPUTY COMMISSIONER

          Robert E. Blackburn United States District Judge

         The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], [2] filed May 16, 2017, seeking review of the Deputy Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review the Deputy Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. I affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of a right knee disorder, chronic liver disease, a history of traumatic brain injury with associated headaches and dizziness, a seizure disorder, anxiety, and affective disorder. After his application for supplemental security income benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on July 29, 2015. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 36 years old. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a case packer, food sorter, and newspaper carrier. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since at least June 27, 2013, the date of his application for benefits.

         The ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to supplemental security income benefits. Although the evidence established plaintiff's right knee disorder and chronic liver disease constituted severe impairments, the judge concluded the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. The remainder of plaintiff's other alleged impairments were found to be non-severe. The ALJ concluded plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work with no environmental, postural, manipulative, or non-exertional restrictions. Because this finding did not preclude plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ found him not disabled at step four of the sequential evaluation. Alternatively, the ALJ concluded there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies he could perform. He therefore also found plaintiff not disabled at step five. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if his physical and/or mental impairments preclude him from performing both his previous work and any other “substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “When a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social Security [Act] requires the [Deputy Commissioner] to consider the combined effects of the impairments in making a disability determination.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d 1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(c). However, the mere existence of a severe impairment or combination of impairments does not require a finding that an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. To be disabling, the claimant's condition must be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months. See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir. 1995).

         The Deputy Commissioner has established a quinquepartite sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled:

1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment is “severe.” A “severe impairment” must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix 1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional capacity to perform his past work, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and substantial work in the economy. This determination is made on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity.

20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also Williams v. Bowen844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988). The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a disability in the first four steps of this analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). The burden then shifts to the Deputy Commissioner to show the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy. Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is ...


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