United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
MARIO J. G., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
M. WARNER CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Before the court is plaintiff Mario
J. G's (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) final decision denying his claim
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income
(“SSI”). 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 affirms the decision.
September 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI alleging
disability beginning in December 2012. Plaintiff alleged
disability following a 2005 injury on the basis of
post-traumatic concussion syndrome and
dementia. Plaintiff's claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which was held on February 9, 2016 before
administrative law judge B. Hobbs (the
March 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled under the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of headaches, remote traumatic brain
injury, mood disorder not otherwise specified, and anxiety
disorder not otherwise specified. However, the ALJ found that
these severe impairments did not meet or medically equal a
Listed impairment. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
work at all exertional levels, but with the following
nonexertional limitations: he could understand, remember, and
carry out only short, simple instructions; he could make only
simple work-related judgments and decisions; and he could
have no more than occasional changes in the routine work
setting. Given this RFC, the ALJ found the
Plaintiff capable of returning to his past work as a
production assembler, a light, unskilled
occupation. Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
February 2017, the agency's Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes
of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
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).
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.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 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. §§
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750-51.
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.
opening brief alleges three flaws in the ALJ's decision,
which Plaintiff argues merit reversal. First, Plaintiff
alleges that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of the
medical expert, Ron Houston, Ph.D. (“Dr.
Houston”) and Liz McGill, Ph.D. (“Dr.
Magill”). Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed
to follow Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p by
allegedly failing to include a narrative discussion of the
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision. Finally,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in her step-four analysis
by failing to evaluate the mental and physical demands of
Plaintiff's past work. For the reasons that follow, the
court concludes that all of Plaintiff's arguments fail.
The ALJ Properly Weighed ...