United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division
KRISTINE A. CHRISTENSEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. Shelby Chief District Judge
M. WARNER CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Judge Robert J. Shelby referred this case to Chief Magistrate
Judge Paul M. Warner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). Before the court is Kristine A.
Christensen's (“Plaintiff” or “Ms.
Christensen”) appeal of the Commissioner's final
decision determining that Plaintiff was not entitled to
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). After careful consideration of the written
briefs and the complete record, the court has determined that
oral argument is not necessary in this case. After careful
review of the administrative record, the parties' briefs,
and the relevant law, the court finds no reversible legal
error and concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. The court therefore
recommends that the decision be affirmed.
Christensen, an insured under the Act, was 44 years old when
she filed her application for SSI on or about July 30,
2012. Ms. Christensen completed her GED and has
past relevant work experience as a telemarketer, gas station
attendant, laborer, manufacturer, and
sanitizer. Ms. Christensen alleged disability
beginning on July 30, 2012, due to multiple sclerosis
(“MS”). At the administrative hearing in July
2014,  Ms. Christensen testified that she also
had problems sleeping and had headaches that were
“constant” for the year prior,  and that she had
experienced hip pain and hand cramping for six
years. The Plaintiff was represented by counsel
at the July 2014 hearing.
Social Security Administration's (“SSA”)
Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) denied
Plaintiff's application. Plaintiff filed a Request for
Review of the ALJ's decision with the SSA Appeals
Council. The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Christensen's request for review.Accordingly,
the ALJ's decision is the final disposition of the
Commissioner and is ripe for judicial review. See 42
U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for
evaluating disability claims, discussed in more detail below.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 30, 2012,
the date of Ms. Christensen's application. At step two,
the ALJ recognized that Plaintiff the severe impairments of
MS; “depressive disorder, not otherwise specified;
mixed anxiety disorder with panic attacks; and cognitive
disorder, not otherwise specified.” At step
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not meet a
listing. In assessing Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work, except for
the following limitations. The ALJ concluded that
1. occasionally lift 10 pounds and frequently lift less than
2. stand 2 out of 8 hours;
3. walk 2 of 8 hours;
4. sit 6 of 8 hours;
5. occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl and
climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds;
6. tolerate no more than occasional exposure to extreme heat
and extreme cold;
7. only make simple work-related judgments and decisions due
to pain, side effects of medications and mental impairments;
8. understand, remember and carry out only short and simple
9. deal with only occasional changes in a routine work
10. do no fast-paced work, but can do goal-oriented
concluded at step four that Ms. Christensen is unable to
perform any past relevant work. At step five, based on
the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff could perform other work that exists in in
significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore
was not disabled as defined in the Act.
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) (quoting Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005)). 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, the court cannot “reweigh the
evidence” or “substitute” its judgment for
that of the ALJ. Madrid v. Barnhart, 447 F.3d 788,
790 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotations and citations omitted).
“[F]ailure 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
A f i v
e -step evaluation process has been established for
determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v); see also Williams v.
Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750- 51 (10th Cir. 1988)
(discussing the five step process). If a determination can be
made at any one of the steps that a claimant is or is not
disabled, the subsequent steps need not be analyzed.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The five step
sequential disability determination is as follows:
1. If the claimant is performing substantial gainful work she
is not disabled.
2. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful
work, her impairment(s) must be severe before she can be
found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not performing substantial gainful work and
has a severe impairment(s) that has lasted or is expected to
last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and
her impairment(s) meets or medically equals a listed
impairment contained in [20 C.F.R. § 404, Part P,
Appendix 1], the claimant is presumed disabled without
4. If the claimant's impairment(s) does not prevent her
from doing her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
5. Even if the claimant's impairment(s) prevent her from
performing her past relevant work, if other work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates
her [RFC] and vocational factors, she is not disabled.
Martin v. Barnhart, 470 F.Supp.2d 1324, 1326-27 (D.
Utah 2006); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v); Williams, 844 F.2d at 750-51.
The claimant bears the burden of proof beginning with step
one and ending with step four. See Williams, 844
F.2d at 750-51; Henrie v. U.S. Dep't of Health &
Human Servs., 13 F.3d 359, 360 (10th Cir. 1993). At step
five, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to
establish “whether the claimant has the [RFC] . . .to
perform other work in the national economy in view of his [or
her] age, education, and work experience.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 751 (quotations and citations
omitted); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
opening brief alleges three flaws in the ALJ's decision.
First, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ failed to adequately
develop the record. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
abused his discretion by failing to include testimony and
evidence from the hearing in fashioning the
RFC. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the
physical and mental limitations set forth in the RFC were
inconsistent with the demands of the jobs identified by the
court has carefully reviewed the administrative record and
finds that Plaintiff has failed to provide the court grounds
on which to overturn the decision of the Commissioner. The
court finds that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards
and the ALJ's decision is supported by the substantial
The ALJ Adequately Developed the Record
claims that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record
as to recently developed impairments to which Ms. Christensen
testified at the hearing, including migraine headaches, hip
pain, hand pain, and agoraphobia. Plaintiff contends that
“there was insufficient inquiry regarding the nature of
such new impairments, ” and “[h]ad the [ALJ] made
a proper inquiry into and assessment of all of Ms.
Christensen's impairments . . . and factored them into
the RFC, ” the ALJ would have concluded that Ms.
Christensen was unable to perform any work. The record
shows that the ALJ explicitly considered these impairments,
but found them unsupported by the record. The ALJ ...