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Grandusky v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 6, 2018

KIMBERLY S. GRANDUSKY, 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, 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 she is disabled as a result of lumbar degenerative disc disease, a cervical spine disorder, a left shoulder impairment, a left knee impairment, insomnia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”), fatty liver disease, obesity, anxiety, colic, depression, and an affective disorder. After her application for supplemental security income benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on September 10, 2015. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 35 years old. She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a certified nurse assistant and a security guard. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since at least May 13, 2013, the date of her 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 degenerative disc disease, shoulder impairment, knee arthritis, and affective disorder 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 or to not meet the durational requirements of the regulations. The ALJ concluded plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light, unskilled work with certain postural and manipulative restrictions. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ found there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies she 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 her physical and/or mental impairments preclude her from performing both her 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 her past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional capacity to perform her 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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