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Cheryl H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

October 12, 2018

CHERYL H., 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 Cheryl H.'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, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, see id. §§ 1381-1383f.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 11, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning on March 15, 2010. [3] Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [4] On July 16, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), [5] and that hearing was held on March 11, 2014. [6] On June 2, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI. [7] On August 22, 2014, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ for additional proceedings. [8]

         A second hearing was held on September 29, 2015. [9] On December 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a second decision denying Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI. [10] On July 20, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, [11] making t h e A LJ 's second decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. Plaintiff then brought the instant action to appeal that final decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This 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 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)-(v), 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).

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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(ii).

         “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), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         At the 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), 416.920(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.

         At this 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), 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, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v), he is disabled and entitled to benefits.

         ANALYSIS

         In support of her claim that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly evaluate certain medical opinions and (2) failing to account for Plaintiff's alleged impairment of edema. The court will address those arguments in turn.

         I. ...


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