United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
AMY L. T, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE
COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING DISABILITY BENEFITS
MAGISTRATE JUDGE CECILIA M. ROMERO UNITED STATES DISTRICT
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff seeks judicial review of
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(Commissioner) denying her claim for disability insurance
benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). After
careful review of the entire record, the parties' briefs,
and arguments presented at a hearing held on August 22, 2019,
the undersigned concludes that the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and free of
harmful legal error and is, therefore, AFFIRMED.
Statutory and Regulatory Background
establish that she is disabled, a claimant must show that she
was unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due
to some medically determinable physical or mental impairment
or combination of impairments that lasted, or were expected
to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A disabling
physical or mental impairment is defined as “an
impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3),
1382c(a)(3)(D). The claimant has the burden of furnishing
medical and other evidence establishing the existence of a
disabling impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A),
applicable to SSI cases through § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i).
federal regulations set forth a five-step sequential analysis
that an administrative law judge (ALJ) must follow in
determining the ultimate issue of disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. A claimant bears the burden
of proof at steps one through four, at which point the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that there is other
work in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
See20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(a), 416.912(a)
(The claimant generally bears the ultimate burden of proving
that she was disabled throughout the period for which
benefits are sought); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987).
Standard of Review
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. See Lax v. Astrue,
489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. (citation omitted). The Court may neither
“reweigh the evidence [n]or substitute [its] judgment
for the [ALJ's].” Id. (citation omitted).
Where the evidence as a whole can support either the
agency's decision or an award of benefits, the
agency's decision must be affirmed. See Ellison v.
Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).
protectively filed for DIB in September 2014 and applied for
SSI in December 2014, alleging disability since August 1,
2013 (Certified Administrative Transcript (Tr.)) 11, 180-90).
She alleged disability due to symptoms related to lumbar
degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches, depression,
and anxiety (Tr. 13, 208). Plaintiff attended two years of
college and worked previously for the Transportation Safety
Administration (TSA) as a security screener and a lead
transportation security officer (Tr. 33-34, 47-48, 209, 262).
February 2017 administrative hearing (Tr. 27-51), an ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Act (Tr. 11-22). The ALJ followed the familiar five-step
sequential evaluation for assessing disability. See
generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052
(10th Cir. 2009) (explaining the five-step process). At step
two the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease with lumbago, sacroiliac
dysfunction, migraines, obesity, depressive disorder, and
anxiety disorder. (Tr. 13). None of these medical impairments
were found to meet or equal the criteria of the disabling
impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app'x
1 (Tr. 13-17). After further consideration of the evidence,
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform a range of light work involving simple,
routine tasks that can be learned within 30 days with no more
than occasional changes in the workplace (Tr. 17-20). At step
four, the ALJ found that, given this RFC, Plaintiff was
unable to perform her past relevant work as a TSA screener or
officer. At step five, however, the ALJ determined that she
could perform other light-exertion jobs in the national
economy such as a cashier II, photocopy machine operator and
cafeteria attendant (Tr. 21-22; Tr. 49-50).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's ensuing request for
review (Tr. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial
review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481, 422.210(a). This timely appeal followed.
appeal Plaintiff argues that: (1) the ALJ's RFC findings
about her subjective symptom testimony are not supported by
substantial evidence; and, (2) the ALJ erred by not accepting
responses to alternative hypothetical questions posed to the
vocational expert after the ALJ's initial hypothetical