United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
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
Barbara C.'s (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) final decision denying her 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.
filed an application for DIB on November 26, 2012 and SSI on
January 18, 2013, alleging disability beginning November 20,
2012, due to diabetes mellitus, depression, anxiety, and
intellectual disability. Plaintiff's claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). Following two hearings before ALJ
Gilbert A. Martinez, the ALJ issued his unfavorable decision
dated May 25, 2016. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from
the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, type 2; anxiety;
and borderline intellectual functioning. However, the ALJ
did not find that any of these impairments or combination of
impairments met or medically equaled the severity of a per se
disabling impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (“Listing”). The ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b), with the
following mental limitations: she could understand, remember,
and carry out short, simple instructions; she could make
simple work related decisions; and she could interact with
supervisors and coworkers, but should have only brief and
superficial contact with the public. Given this RFC, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff could return to her past work as a
housekeeper, and could also perform work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Therefore, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Act. The 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 Listing], 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 [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
argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because
the ALJ substituted his own lay opinion for that of two
medical professionals. Second, the ALJ alleges that the ALJ
failed to consider Plaintiff's limitations under Listing
12.05 for intellectual disability. Finally, Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to assign
weight and explain the weight assigned to the medical opinion
of John Hardy, Ph.D. (“Dr. Hardy”). The court
will address Plaintiff's first two arguments together, as
they both relate to Plaintiff's IQ scores, and will then
address Plaintiff's third argument.
ALJ Did Not Improperly Substitute His Own Opinion Because
Further IQ Testing Was Not Required for ALJ to Conclude That
Plaintiff Did Not Meet a Listing.
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ improperly substituted
his judgment for that of medical professionals when he failed
to pursue additional IQ testing. Plaintiff also argues that
the ALJ erred by failing to consider the intellectual
disability Listing (Listing 12.05). The Commissioner argues
that although there was inconsistent evidence, the ALJ did
not need to pursue additional IQ testing because other
evidence in the record was sufficient to support a finding
that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.05.
to the regulations in effect when the ALJ made his decision,
if all the evidence received by the ALJ, “including
medical opinion(s), is consistent and there is sufficient
evidence for [the ALJ] to determine whether [the claimant] is
disabled, [the ALJ] will make [his] determination based on
that evidence.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520b(a),
416.920b(a). If the evidence is inconsistent, the ALJ
“will weigh the relevant evidence and see whether [he]
can determine whether [the claimant] is disabled based on the
evidence” the ALJ has. Id. at §§
404.1520b(b), 416.920(b). However, if the evidence is
consistent but insufficient to determine whether the claimant
is disabled, or if after weighing ...