Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
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.

Staley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

September 28, 2017

RAMONA C. STALEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          PAUL M. WARNER CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         All parties in this case have consented to Chief United States Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner conducting all proceedings, including entry of final judgment, with appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.[2] See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Before the court is Ramona C. Staley's (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Commissioner's final decision determining that Plaintiff was not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. After careful consideration of the written briefs and the complete record, the court has determined that oral argument is not necessary in this case.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2007.[3] On January 8, 2009, Plaintiff's claim was approved.[4] On March 27, 2013, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of March 1, 2013.[5]Plaintiff appealed that decision and, upon reconsideration, the Commissioner confirmed that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of March 1, 2013.[6]

         Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), [7] and that hearing was held on May 20, 2014.[8] On August 19, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision upholding the termination of Plaintiff's disability benefits.[9] On March 18, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, [10] making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         The ALJ recognized that, as of March 1, 2013, Plaintiff had certain severe impairments.[11]However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had experienced medical improvements beginning March 1, 2013.[12] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work.[13] Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a telephone solicitor.[14] Therefore, the ALJ found that that as of March 1, 2013, Plaintiff was no longer disabled.[15]

         On May 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case.[16] On August 8, 2016, the Commissioner filed an answer and a copy of the administrative record.[17] Plaintiff filed her opening brief on September 30, 2016.[18] The Commissioner filed an answer brief on November 4, 2016.[19] Plaintiff filed her reply brief on November 18, 2016.[20]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court “review[s] the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quotations and citation omitted). The Commissioner's findings, “if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quotations and citation omitted). “In reviewing the ALJ's decision, [this court may] neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ].” Madrid v. Barnhart, 447 F.3d 788, 790 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotations and citation omitted). “The failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide this court with a sufficient basis to determine that appropriate legal principles have been followed [are] grounds for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (quotations and citation omitted).

         In order to determine whether to terminate or continue benefits, the Commissioner must determine “if there has been any medical improvement in [a claimant's] impairment(s) and, if so, whether this medical improvement is related to [the claimant's] ability to work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(a). Disability benefits may be terminated based on medical improvement only if there is substantial evidence demonstrating that “there has been any medical improvement in the individual's impairment or combination of impairments (other than medical improvement which is not related to the individual's ability to work), and . . . the individual is now able to engage in substantial gainful activity.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(f)(1)(A)-(B). Medical improvement is defined as

any decrease in the medical severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s) which was present at the time of the most recent favorable medical decision that [the claimant was] disabled or continued to be disabled. A determination that there has been a decrease in medical severity must be based on changes (improvement) in the symptoms, signs and/or laboratory findings associated with [the claimant's] impairment(s).

20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). The Commissioner bears the burden of establishing a claimant's medical condition has improved. See Hayden v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 986, 988 (10th Cir. 2004).

         “An eight-part sequential evaluation process is used in termination reviews.” Knapp v. Barnhart, 68 F. App'x 951, 952 (10th Cir. 2003); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1)-(8). The first step asks whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is no longer considered disabled. See id. If, however, the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to the next step.

         At step two, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal a section of Appendix 1 of the relevant regulations (individually, a “listing” and collectively, the “listings”). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(2); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant's impairments meet or equal a listing, she will continue to be found disabled. See id. If, on the other hand, the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner moves to the next step.

         The third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether there has been medical improvement, as defined above, in the claimant's conditions. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(3). If there has been medical improvement in the claimant's conditions, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. See id. If there has not been medical improvement in the claimant's conditions, the Commissioner proceeds to step five. See id.

         At step four, the Commissioner considers whether the demonstrated medical improvement is related to the claimant's ability to work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(4). The consideration at this step is whether there has been an increase in the claimant's RFC based on the impairments that were present at the time of the claimant's most recent favorable medical determination. See id. If the medical improvement is related to the claimant's ability to work, the Commissioner proceeds to step six. See id. If it is not, then the Commissioner proceeds to step five. See id.

         At step five, which is reached only if the Commissioner determines that there has been no medical improvement or that the medical improvement is not related to the claimant's ability to work, the Commissioner considers whether any of the exceptions to medical improvement contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(d) or (e) apply. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(5). If none of them applies, the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is still disabled. See id. If any of the first group of exceptions applies, the Commissioner proceeds to step six. See id. If any of the second group of exceptions applies, the claimant the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is no longer disabled. See id.

         At step six, which is reached only if the Commissioner determines that there has been medical improvement related to the claimant's ability to work or if one of the first group of exceptions to medical improvement applies, the Commissioner considers whether all of the claimant's impairments are severe. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6). If all of the claimant's impairments are deemed to be severe, the Commissioner proceeds to step seven. See id. If not, the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is no longer disabled. See id.

         The seventh step requires the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant can engage in substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(7). The Commissioner first determines whether the claimant has the RFC to engage in work he or she has done in the past. See id. If the claimant can perform such work, the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is no longer disabled. See id. If not, the Commissioner proceeds to step eight. See id.

         At step eight, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has the RFC to do other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(8). If the claimant can perform other work, the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is no longer disabled. See id. If not, the Commissioner will determine that the claimant is still disabled. See id.

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's final decision in this case should be reversed because the ALJ erred (1) by determining that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement and (2) in the assessment of Plaintiff's RFC. The court will address those arguments in turn.

         I. Medical Improvement

         As noted above, in order to determine whether terminate or continue benefits, the Commissioner must determine “if there has been any medical improvement in [a claimant's] impairment(s) and, if so, whether this medical improvement is related to [the claimant's] ...


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.