United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
District Judge Ted Stewart
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
M. WARNER, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Judge Ted Stewart referred this case to Chief Magistrate
Judge Paul M. Warner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). Before the court is Harriet S.'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.
alleges disability due to various physical and mental
impairments. In August 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB,
alleging disability beginning on November 1,
2012. Plaintiff's application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. On April 11, 2014, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). After administrative hearings,
ALJ issued a written decision on March 30, 2016, denying
Plaintiff's claim for DIB. On February 3, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making t h e A L J '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. On March
13, 2017, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case seeking
review of the Commissioner's final
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
-step evaluation process has been established for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(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.
Step one determines whether the claimant is presently engaged
in substantial gainful activity. If [the claimant] is,
disability benefits are denied. If [the claimant] is not, the
decision maker must proceed to step two: determining whether
the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination
of impairments. . . . If the claimant is unable to show that
his impairments would have more than a minimal effect on his
ability to do basic work activities, he is not eligible for
disability benefits. If, on the other hand, the claimant
presents medical evidence and makes the de minimis showing of
medical severity, the decision maker proceeds to step three.
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750-51 (quotations and
citations omitted); see 20 C.F.R. §
Step three determines whether the impairment is equivalent to
one of a number of listed impairments that . . . are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity . . . . If
the impairment is listed and thus conclusively presumed to be
disabling, the claimant is entitled to benefits. If not, the
evaluation proceeds to the fourth step . . . .
Williams, 844 F.2d at 751 (quotations and citations
omitted); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
fourth step, the claimant must show that the impairment
prevents performance of his “past relevant work.”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). “If the claimant
is able to perform his previous work, he is not
disabled.” Williams, 844 F.2d at 751. If,
however, the claimant is not able to perform his previous
work, he “has met his burden of proof, establishing a
prima facie case of disability.” Id.
point, “[t]he evaluation process . . . proceeds to the
fifth and final step.” Id. At this step, the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner, and the decision
maker must determine “whether the claimant has the
residual functional capacity [(”RFC”)] . . . to
perform other work in the national economy in view of his
age, education, and work experience.” Id.;
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If it is
determined that the claimant “can make an adjustment to
other work, ” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v), he is
not disabled. If, on the other hand, it is determined that
the claimant “cannot make an adjustment to other work,
” id., he is disabled and entitled to
support of her claim that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred (1) at step two
of the sequential evaluation process by failing to determine
that certain of Plaintiff's alleged impairments were
severe and (2) in evaluating certain medical opinions. The
court will address those arguments in turn.
noted above, step two of the sequential evaluation process
determines whether the claimant has medical impairments,
either individually or in combination, that are severe.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). To
establish severity, the claimant must “show that his
impairments would have more than a minimal effect on his
ability to do basic work activities.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 751; see 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). While step two requires only
“a de minimus showing, ” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1263 (10th Cir. 2005)
(quotations and citations omitted), the claimant still bears
the burden of demonstrating severity at step two. See
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987)
(“The claimant first must bear the burden . . . at step
two that he has a medically severe impairment or combination
of impairments.”); see also Kirby v. Astrue,
500 F.3d 705, 708 (8th Cir. 2007) (“Severity is not an
onerous requirement for the claimant to meet, but it is also
not a toothless standard.”) (citation omitted). If the
claimant fails to carry this burden, and “the process
ends at step two, the burden of proof never shifts to the
[Commissioner].” Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5.
case, the ALJ concluded at step two that Plaintiff did not
have a medical impairment or combination of impairments that
were severe. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to DIB.
contends that the ALJ erred at step two by failing to
determine that the following alleged impairments were not
severe: (A) neuropathy, visual impairments, and diarrhea; and
(B) cognitive ...