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Kies v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 5, 2019

MEGAN ELLEN KIES, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER

          Robert E. Blackburn Judge

         The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], [1] filed March 21, 2019, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review the 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 a multitude of impairments, including multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, status post cervical spine injury requiring fusion surgery, history of left knee ACL/meniscus injury, left ulnar neuropathy, history of trigeminal neuralgia, conversion disorder, traumatic brain injury, and a neurocognitive disorder. After her application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. That hearing was held on April 30, 2018. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 32 years old. She has a college education and past relevant work experience as a hairstylist, bartender, front desk clerk, housekeeper/cleaner, and page/fundraiser. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 25, 2015, her alleged date of onset.

         The ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits. Although the evidence established plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the judge concluded the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Other alleged impairments were found to be non-severe. The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine, repetitive sedentary work with certain postural and environmental restrictions. Although that conclusion precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ found there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the local and national economies plaintiff could perform. She therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. 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 [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 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. § 404.1520(b)-(f). 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 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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