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Marsha K. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 3, 2019

MARSHA K., Plaintiff
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          District Judge Robert J. Shelby



         Plaintiff, Marsha K., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), filed this action asking this Court[1]to reverse or remand the final agency decision denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that she did not qualify as disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (ECF 14, Certified Administrative Transcript, (Tr.) 65-91). Having carefully considered the parties' memoranda and the complete record in this matter, the undersigned recommends the Court AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff was 36 years old in September 2013, when she claimed disability due to fibromyalgia and anxiety (Tr. 283).[2] She completed the 10th grade and had past relevant work as a label maker, stores laborer, cable re-winder, and food service worker (Tr. 284).

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability claims (Tr. 68-85). See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had a severe impairment (left knee patellofemoral syndrome) but that her impairment did not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment (Tr. 70-71). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with additional limitations (Tr. 72-83). Consistent with a vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 83-85). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had failed to establish disability under the Act (Tr. 85).

         The Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981; 422.210(a). This appeal followed.


         The Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence in support of the ALJ'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 threshold for evidentiary sufficiency under the substantial evidence standard is “not high.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).While substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” it means only “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted). Under this deferential standard, this Court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2014).


         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). 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).

         In determining whether a claimant qualifies as disabled, the SSA employs a five-part sequential evaluation. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The analysis evaluates 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 age, education, and work experience.

See Id. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing the disability in the first four steps. Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant retains the ability to ...

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