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Deborah C. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

January 30, 2019

DEBORAH C., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DEE BENSON JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          EVELYN J FURSE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Deborah C.[1] filed this action asking this Court[2] to remand the final agency decision denying her Disability Insurance Benefits and Social Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that Ms. C. did not qualify as disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 13, Tr. 96, the certified copy of the transcript of the entire record of the administrative proceedings relating to Deborah C. (hereafter “Tr. ”).) Having carefully considered the parties' memoranda and the complete record in this matter, the undersigned RECOMMENDS the District Judge REMAND the Commissioner's decision so the ALJ can evaluate and weigh the opinion of Ms. C.'s treating physician, Dr. David Grygla, properly.[3]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) provide for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the SSA applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner's findings shall stand if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         Adequate, relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion constitutes substantial evidence, and “[e]vidence is insubstantial if it is overwhelmingly contradicted by other evidence.” O'Dell v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (10th Cir. 1994).[4] The standard “requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084. “Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence-particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)-or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion.” Gossett v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 802, 805 (10th Cir. 1988) (quoting Fulton v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 1052, 1055 (10th Cir. 1985)). Moreover, “[a] finding of ‘no substantial evidence' will be found only where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices or no contrary medical evidence.” Trimiar v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1326, 1329 (10th Cir. 1992) (quoting Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)).

         Although the reviewing court considers “whether the ALJ followed the specific rules of law that must be followed in weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases, ” the court “will not reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment for the Commissioner's, ” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005)), but will “review only the sufficiency of the evidence, ” Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257 (10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original). The court does not have to accept the Commissioner's findings mechanically but will “examine the record as a whole, including whatever in the record fairly detracts from the weight of the [Commissioner's] decision and, on that basis, determine if the substantiality of the evidence test has been met.” Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994) (quoting Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991)). “The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial evidence, '” and the court may not “‘displace the agenc[y's] choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo.'” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Zoltanski v. FAA, 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).

         In addition to a lack of substantial evidence, the court may reverse where the Commissioner uses the wrong legal standards or fails to demonstrate reliance on the correct legal standards. See Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994); Thomson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993); Andrade v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 985 F.2d 1045, 1047 (10th Cir. 1993).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         The Social Security Act (“Act”) defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). Moreover, the Act considers an individual disabled “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Id §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         In determining whether a claimant qualifies as disabled within the meaning of the Act, the SSA employs a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-53 (10th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process requires the ALJ to consider whether:

(1) The claimant presently engages in substantial gainful activity;
(2) The claimant has a medically severe physical or mental impairment or impairments;
(3) The impairment is equivalent to one of the impairments listed in the appendix of the relevant disability regulation which preclude substantial gainful activity;
(4) The impairment prevents the claimant from performing his or her past work; and
(5) The claimant possesses a residual functional capacity to perform other work in the national economy considering his or her ...

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