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Salazar v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division

February 22, 2018

SKYLARE WREN SALAZAR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          Dustin B. Pead United States Magistrate Judge

         The parties consented to this court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 636(c). (ECF No. 12). Currently pending before the court is Plaintiff Skylare Wren Salazar's (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. Plaintiff filed his opening brief. (ECF No. 15). The Commissioner filed her opposition brief. (ECF No. 16). Plaintiff did not file any reply and the deadline for doing so has now passed. (See ECF No. 14). The parties did not request oral argument. Having considered the parties' briefs, the administrative record, and the relevant law, this court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on August 27, 2009, alleging an onset date of February 8, 2009. (Tr. 133-36). The application was denied initially on January 26, 2010, and upon reconsideration on February 10, 2010. (Tr. 66-71). In 2011 Administrative Law Judge Donald R. Jensen denied Plaintiff's application, but that decision was subsequently appealed to the District of Utah and then remanded to the Commissioner. (Tr. 12-23, 587-96). On July 27, 2015, ALJ Jensen issued another decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 509-22). Plaintiff appealed this second denial to Social Security's Appeals Council. (Tr. 680-81). The Appeals Council declined to exercise jurisdiction. (Tr. 496-99). Plaintiff then filed the present suit.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1985. (Tr. 133). Plaintiff completed high school. (Tr. 521). Plaintiff has past work experience as a hand packager. (Tr. 171, 520). Plaintiff claims he became disabled in February 2009, due to depression, bipolar disorder, and “comprehension inability.” (Tr. 170). Plaintiff has a history of mental health treatment dating back to 2004. (See Tr. 238-65).

         III. STATEMENT OF RELEVANT LAW

         A. Definition of Disability Under the Act

         The Act states that an individual is disabled “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The disabling impairment must last, or be expected to last, for at least twelve consecutive months. Id.; Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214-15 (2002).

         B. Process for Determining Disability Under the Act

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process. The adjudicator considers whether a claimant: (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the alleged disability period, (2) had a severe impairment, (3) had a condition that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment, (4) could return to his past relevant work, and if not (5) could perform other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If a decision regarding the claimant's disability can be reached at any step in the sequential evaluation process, further evaluation is unnecessary. Id.

         C. Standard of Review

         A district 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. Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). Where the evidence as a whole can support the agency's decision or an award of benefits, the court must affirm the agency's decision. Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).

         IV. THE ...


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