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Tammy C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 11, 2019

Tammy C., Plaintiff
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Defendant

          District Judge Dee Benson

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CECILIA M. ROMERO, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Tammy C., 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 Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that she did not qualify as disabled within the meaning of the Act (ECF 15, Certified Administrative Transcript (Tr.) 15-34). Having carefully considered the parties' memoranda and the complete record in this matter, the undersigned recommends the Court AFFIRM the ALJ's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI alleging disability beginning June 1, 2001 (Tr. 68-69). At this time Plaintiff was 32 years of age, was married, and had five children (Tr. 163-165). She dropped out of school in the 9th grade but later earned her GED (Tr. 22). She last worked in 1998 at Wal-Mart when she was 18 years of age (Tr. 188). At the time she submitted her application, she alleged disability due to depression, bipolar disorder, and migraines (Tr. 187).

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability claims (Tr. 15-34). See20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, obesity, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, but that her impairments did not meet or equal the severity of listed impairments (Tr. 17-18). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with limitations (Tr. 20-33). 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. 34). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had failed to establish disability under the Act (Tr. 34).

         The Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4), 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.

         II. 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 ALJ's decision to determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence in support of the factual findings and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The findings shall stand if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3). 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The 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 within the meaning of the Act, the ALJ employs a five-part sequential evaluation. See20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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 ...

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