United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division
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 February 14, 2018, the court held oral
argument on Plaintiff's appeal. At the hearing, Plaintiff
was represented by Wendy Wheeler, and Defendant was
represented by Laura H. Holland. 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.
filed a Title II application for disability insurance
benefits, alleging disability beginning September 1, 2006.
The claim was initially denied on November 14, 2011, and
denied upon reconsideration on January 10, 2012. Plaintiff
requested a hearing and was granted a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 13,
2013. At the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff amended her
disability onset date to July 8, 2011. The ALJ issued a
denial of Plaintiff's claim on May 15, 2013. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review,
and Plaintiff appealed her case to the United States District
Court of Utah.
on a stipulation from the government, the court remanded the
case to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council ordered the
ALJ to schedule another hearing and make findings based on
evidence relevant to Plaintiff and take any further action
needed to complete the administrative record. On February 23,
2016, Plaintiff appeared at a supplemental hearing before the
ALJ. The ALJ again found that Plaintiff was not disabled and
the Appeals Council again denied Plaintiff's request for
review. Plaintiff then brought the present appeal.
claimed disability based on bilateral lobulated parenchymal
thinning of each kidney, urinary incontinence, hypertension,
chronic fatigue syndrome, low back impairments, obesity,
dementia with cognitive decline, carpal tunnel syndrome,
chronic headaches, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff had
worked in accounts receivable and her employer accommodated
her high blood pressure and resulting headaches by providing
her with a cot at her workstation that allowed her to lie
down at times throughout the work day. However,
Plaintiff's employer ultimately terminated her employment
because she was making too many mistakes.
doctors treated Plaintiff over the years. Dr. Douglas Walker
treated her for high blood pressure, bilateral hip pain,
lumbago, daily headaches, and fatigue. Dr. Varma treated her
for mental status change. Plaintiff had two MRI scans in 2007
showing white matter disease. The MRIs were conducted only
three months apart but showed a year and a half decline in
memory. In November 2011, Plaintiff was examined by a state
physician, Dr. Ingebretson, who found that she was a
fifty-year-old woman with Type II diabetes, a history of at
least five small strokes, kidney damage, and obesity. Dr.
Ingebretson also noted that her right kidney had atrophied
and thought that this contributed to her high blood pressure.
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 met the insured status
requirement of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2012, and
had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity during
the period from her amended disability onset date of July 8,
2011, through June 30, 2012. While the first ALJ found that
Plaintiff's severe impairments included mild lobulated
parenchymal thinning of each kidney, hypertension, chronic
fatigue syndrome, obesity, mild dementia, depression, and
anxiety, the second ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe
impairments included only diabetes mellitus and obesity.
Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's combination of
impairments did not meet the severity of the listed
impairments in the Social Security regulations. The ALJ next
found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) with certain exceptions. At step four, the
second ALJ's decision also varied from the first
ALJ's decision. While the first ALJ found that Plaintiff
was unable to perform her past relevant work, the second ALJ
found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past
relevant work as an administrative clerk and an accounting
clerk. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled as defined in the Social Security Act at any time
during the relevant period.