United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
HEIDI M. TESSIER, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
A. Kimball, United States District Judge
matter is before the court on Plaintiff's appeal of the
Social Security Administration's denial of her claim for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. This court has jurisdiction to review the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). On January 11, 2018, the court held oral
argument on Plaintiff's appeal. At the hearing, Plaintiff
was represented by Wendy Wheeler, and Defendant was
represented by Jessica Milano. The court took the matter
under advisement. Having fully considered the parties'
briefs and arguments, the administrative record, and the law
and facts relevant to the appeal, the court enters the
following Memorandum Decision and Order remanding the case to
the Social Security Administration.
April 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning
March 15, 2012. The Social Security Administration denied the
claim on September 19, 2013, and Plaintiff requested a
hearing. An Administrative Law Judge held a hearing on
Plaintiff's claim on November 17, 2015, and issued a
denial of Plaintiff's claim on December 9, 2015. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for
review, rending the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final administrative decision.
time of her application for benefits, Plaintiff was 49 years
old. She has a bachelor's degree and master's degree
in education with two reading endorsements. She was an early
childhood teacher during the 1990s and an elementary school
teacher from 2001 through March 2012. In March 2012,
Plaintiff suffered a stroke, which caused cognitive
disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar II disorder, and
increased the severity of her peripheral neuropathy. The ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
stroke, transient ischemic attack, cognitive disorder,
depression, bipolar, and anxiety.
found “disabled” under the Social Security Act,
the plaintiff must establish her “inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment.”
42 U.S.C. 423(d)(1)(A). Under the Social Security Act, the
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.
one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging
in substantial gainful activity. Id. §
416.920(b). At step two, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant has a medically determinable impairment or
combination of impairments that is severe. Id.
§ 416.920(c). At step three, the ALJ determines whether
the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments
is of a severity to meet, or be considered medically equal
to, the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. §§
416.920(d). Before considering step four, the ALJ must
determine the claimant's residual functional capacity.
Id. § 416.920(e). An individual's residual
functional capacity is her ability to do physical and mental
work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from
her impairments. At step four, the ALJ must determine whether
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
the requirements of her past relevant work. Id.
§ 416.920(f). At the last step, the ALJ must determine
whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering
her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience. Id. § 416.920(g).
analyzed Plaintiff's claim under the five-step process.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the stroke in March 2012.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had several severe impairments.
Under Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's
combination of impairments were not medically severe because
they did not reach the level of severity contemplated by the
listed impairments and her mental impairments did not result
in at least two of the following: marked restriction of
activities of daily living; marked difficulties in
maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, or repeated
episodes of decompensation.
next found Plaintiff's residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
with the following limitations: frequently climb ramps or
stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
occasionally crouch and crawl; frequently balance, stoop, and
kneel; and, avoid even moderate exposure to hazards and
operation of a motor vehicle. In addition, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's ability to understand, remember, and carry
out job instructions is limited, but she can still
understand, remember, and carry out short, simple
instructions. Also, the ALJ determined that while
Plaintiff's ability to make judgments in work-related
decisions is impaired, she can make simple work-related
decisions and she could interact with supervisors and
four, the ALJ recognized that Plaintiff was unable to perform
her past relevant work. However, at the final step,
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, the ALJ found that there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff can perform. The ALJ relied on the
testimony of the vocational expert that Plaintiff would be
able to work as a housekeeper and production assembler.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
court independently determines “whether the ALJ's
decision is ‘free from legal error and supported by
substantial evidence.'” Wall v. Astrue,
561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731
(10th Cir. 2005)). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
“[t]he findings of the Commission of Social Security as
to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” “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.”
Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052. Although the court
“will ‘not reweigh the evidence or retry the
case, '” it “meticulously examine[s] the
record as a whole, ...