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Marilyn M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division

September 13, 2018

MARILYN M., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          PAUL M. WARNER CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         All parties in this case have consented to Chief Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner conducting all proceedings, including entry of final judgment, with appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.[2] See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Before the court is Marilyn M.'s (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) final decision determining that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”).[3] 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 Commissioner's decision is therefore affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old in July 2015, when she claimed disability based on depression, fibromyalgia, Graves' disease, anxiety, and fatigue, among other conditions.[4] She completed high school and has past relevant work experience as an apartment manager and property manager.[5] Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on September 30, 2016, by Jason W. Crowell, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).[6] Plaintiff requested review before the Appeals Council, which was denied December 19, 2016, [7] rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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 omitted).

         A five-step evaluation process has been established for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iv), 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), 404.1520(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 further inquiry.
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 residual functional capacity [(“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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(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), 416.920(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 benefits.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's opening brief alleges three flaws in the ALJ's decision which Plaintiff argues merit reversal. First, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he ALJ erred in relying on vocational expert testimony to fulfill his step [five] burden without addressing post-hearing objections to that testimony.”[8] Second, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he ALJ failed to adhere to Agency policy and Tenth Circuit precedent when considering the consistent opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and the consultative examiner.”[9] Finally, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he ALJ's credibility analysis is deficient generally, but also because the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff's exemplary work history prior to her alleged disability onset.”[10] 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 will address each of Plaintiff's arguments in turn. For the reasons that follow, the court finds that the ALJ applied the correct legal standard and the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.

         I. The ALJ Properly Relied on Vocational ...


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