Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rafferty v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          EVELYN J. FURSE United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Patrick Rafferty, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act). After careful review of the entire record, the parties' briefs, and arguments presented at a hearing held on February 17, 2017, the undersigned concludes that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and free of harmful legal error and is, therefore, AFFIRMED.

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005)). The Court may neither “reweigh the evidence [n]or substitute [its] judgment for the [ALJ's].” Id. (quoting Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172). Where the evidence as a whole can support either the agency's decision or an award of benefits, the Court will affirm the agency's decision. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).

         In this case, Mr. Rafferty claimed disability at the age of 27, based on degenerative disc disease, hearing loss, arthritis in his fingers, and joint pain. (The certified copy of the transcript of the entire record of the administrative proceedings relating to Mr. Rafferty (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 109, 133, ECF No. 7.) He obtained a GED and had past relevant work as a tractor/trailer driver, construction worker, and maintenance mechanic. (Id. at 134.) The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability claims. (Id. at 11-23); see generally 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). As relevant here, the ALJ found that Mr. Rafferty retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light work. (Tr. 15.) Considering this RFC, the ALJ found - consistent with the vocational expert's testimony - that Mr. Rafferty could not perform his past relevant work but could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at 21-22.) The ALJ thus concluded that Mr. Rafferty had failed to establish disability under the Act. (Id. at 22.) The Court finds that substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's factual findings and that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards.

         I.The ALJ Committed Harmless Error in Failing to Analyze Whether Mr. Rafferty Met or Medically Equaled Listing 1.04A.

         Mr. Rafferty first asserts that the ALJ erred in finding that he did not meet or equal Listing 1.04A (disorders of the spine). (Pet'r Opening Br. (Pl. Br.) 12-17, ECF No. 17.) As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Mr. Rafferty had the burden at step three to provide medical evidence demonstrating that his impairments met or medically equaled a Listing. See Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989); Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 733 (10th Cir. 2005). Meeting or equaling the requirements of a Listing at step three of the sequential evaluation process is “a very high standard.” McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 612 (8th Cir. 2011). “For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severe, does not qualify.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original). “To show that an impairment or combination of impairments meets the requirements of a listing, a claimant must provide specific medical findings that support each of the various requisite criteria for the impairment.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1085 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 416.925).

         To meet Listing 1.04A, a claimant must have a disorder of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, or vertebral fracture) resulting in compromise of a nerve root or the spinal cord. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.04. In addition, Listing 1.04A requires all of the following:

Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine)[.]

Id. To show equivalency, the claimant must present medical findings “equal in severity to all the criteria for the most similar listed impairment.” Zebley, 493 U.S. at 531.

         The Court finds the ALJ erred in failing to analyze Listing 1.04 and a potential equivalency finding. Sufficient evidence existed in the record that Mr. Rafferty brought to the ALJ's attention, that the ALJ should have explicitly analyzed Listing 1.04 and the potential for an equivalency finding based on Mr. Rafferty's condition in combination with his obesity.

         However, because the ALJ elsewhere discussed evidence supporting a finding that Mr. Rafferty did not meet or equal this Listing, the Court concludes that any error was harmless. See Fischer-Ross, 431 F.3d 733 (“an ALJ's findings at other steps of the sequential process may provide a proper basis for upholding a step three conclusion that a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal any listed impairment.”). Specifically, as seen below, the ALJ's determination of Mr. Rafferty's capabilities and his crediting of medical testimony makes clear that the ALJ would not have found Mr. Rafferty's condition meets or equals Listing 1.04.

         II.The ALJ's Assessment of Mr. Rafferty's RFC Complied with Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p.

         Next, Mr. Rafferty argues that the ALJ did not provide a “proper function-by-function assessment” of his RFC. (Pl. Br. 17-19, ECF No. 17.) Courts within the Tenth Circuit have consistently rejected Mr. Rafferty's argument that a hyper-technical function-by-function analysis is required when assessing a claimant's RFC. See Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 956-57 (10th Cir. 2014); Stone v. Colvin, No. CIV-14-612-STE, 2015 WL 5231033, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Sept. 8, 2015) (unpublished). The court in Hendron noted that the function-by-function assessment ensures that an ALJ does not overlook limitations or restrictions that would narrow the ranges and types of work that a claimant can perform. See Hendron, 767 F.3d at 956 (citing SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *3). Here, the Court finds no evidence that the ALJ overlooked any limitations or restrictions in this case. The ALJ determined that Mr. Rafferty could perform light work with only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping, crouching, and crawling; never climbing ropes and scaffolds; frequently kneeling; and having no exposure to vibration and hazards such as heights and dangerous moving machinery. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ's decision demonstrated that he gave deference to the medical opinions that supported his assessment of Mr. Rafferty's RFC. (Id. 15; see also Id. at Tr. 61-63.) Thus, the ALJ's RFC assessment was based upon substantial evidence.

         Further, Mr. Rafferty's argument that the ALJ was required to tie evidence to each specific finding in the RFC, (Pl. Br. 17-19, ECF No. 17), is unsupported. See Banks v. Astrue, 537 F.Supp.2d 75, 85 (D.D.C. 2008). “Although the language of SSR 96-8p requires that the ALJ's RFC assessment ‘must address . . . the remaining exertional . . . capacities of the individual, ' this does not require written articulation of all seven strength demands.” Id. at 85 (emphasis in original) (quoting SSR 96-8- at *5); see also Hendron, 767 F.3d at 954-55 (affirming the ALJ's narrative discussion ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.