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Blaylock v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division

August 22, 2019

Dawn M. Blaylock Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.

         MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Dustin B. Pead MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the court is Dawn M. Blaylock's (“Plaintiff's”) appeal of the Commissioner's final decision determining that Plaintiff was not entitled to Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). The court held oral arguments on August 16, 2019.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to various physical and mental impairments. In August 2014 Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning July 11, 1982 (Tr. 173).[1]Through counsel at her hearing Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to August 25, 2014 (Tr. 232). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on June 6, 2017 (Tr. 173). On July 3, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits (Tr. 170-190). On May 8, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of administrative review.

         On July 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case.[2] The Commissioner filed his answer and the administrative record on September 17, 2018.[3] On September 17, 2018 and September 18, 2018, the parties consented to a United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings in the case, including entry of final judgment, with appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.[4] Consequently, this case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Plaintiff filed her opening brief on December 5, 2018.[5] The Commissioner filed his answer brief on February 4, 2019.[6]

         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

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's case through step five, making ...


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