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Kayser v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 25, 2017

DEAVON KAYSER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum [Doc. 22] (“Motion”), filed on May 4, 2017. The Commissioner responded on June 28, 2017. [Doc. 23]. Plaintiff replied on July 14, 2017. [Doc. 24]. The parties have consented to the undersigned's entering final judgment in this case. [Doc. 32]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) applied the correct legal standards and her decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied, and Commissioner's final decision, affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the Commissioner's final decision[2] is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and the correct legal standards were applied, the Commissioner's decision stands and the plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004). Courts must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).

         “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it.” Id. While a court may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its examination of the record as a whole must include “anything that may undercut or detract from the [Commissioner]'s findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005). “The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the] findings from being supported by substantial evidence.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zoltanski v. FAA, 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).

         “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 is grounds for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Processes

         In order to qualify for disability benefits, an adult claimant must establish that he is unable “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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). A child claimant, however, must establish that he “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(C); 20 C.F.R. § 416.906.

         When considering a disability application for an adult, the Commissioner is required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process (“SEP”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the SEP, the claimant must show: (1) he is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity”; and (2) he has a “severe medically determinable . . . impairment . . . or a combination of impairments” that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year; and (3) his impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments; or (4) he is unable to perform his “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If he cannot show that his impairment meets or equals a Listing, but he proves that he is unable to perform his “past relevant work, ” the burden of proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy, considering his residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. Id.

         The “test for determining whether a child claimant is disabled is an abbreviated version of the adult [5-step SEP].” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 526 (1990). Rather than five steps, the ALJ uses three steps, the first two of which mirror the first two adult steps. See Id. A child under 18 years of age is “disabled” and eligible for SSI benefits if the child (1) is not doing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is severe; and (3) the impairment or combination of impairments meets, medically equals, or functionally equals the Listings for disability at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and otherwise meets the applicable duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a)-(d); see also Id. § 416.906 (specifying duration requirement). A child's impairment or combination of impairments functionally equals the listings and, thus, constitutes a disability, when it results in “marked” limitations in two domains or an “extreme” limitation in one domain, as described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. The Commissioner assesses how a child functions “‘in terms of six domains: (i) Acquiring and using information; (ii) Attending and completing tasks; (iii) Interacting and relating with others; (iv) Moving about and manipulating objects; (v) Caring for [ones]self; and, (vi) Health and physical well-being.'” Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1238 (10th Cir. 2001) (footnote omitted) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi)).

         Procedural Background

         An application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) was filed on Plaintiff's behalf-because he was under 18 years of age[3]-on June 30, 2011. Tr. 10. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. Id. ALJ Charlotte A. Wright held a hearing on January 8, 2015, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 10, 32. Plaintiff and his mother, Shanna Marie Kayser, appeared in person, along with Plaintiff's attorney. Tr. 10, 32. The ALJ took testimony from Plaintiff, Ms. Kayser, and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Leslie J. White. Tr. 10, 32-72.

         The ALJ issued her unfavorable decision on March 30, 2015. Tr. 25. At step one of the child SEP, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had never engaged in substantial, gainful activity. Tr. 14. Next, at step two she found that Plaintiff suffered from one severe impairment: hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (“HED”). Tr. 15. She further found that Plaintiff's personality disorder-intellectual impairment (diagnosed by the consultative examiner), asthma, and his eye/vision problems were not severe. Tr. 15-16.

         At step three of the child SEP, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 17. She further found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or combination, failed to functionally equal a Listing. Id. at 17-23. Accordingly, the ALJ found that before attaining age 18, Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 23.

         Having determined that Plaintiff was not disabled before he turned 18, the ALJ proceeded with the remaining adult SEP steps. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no new severe impairments since turning 18 years old. Id. She further found at step three that Plaintiff had no impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listing. Id. Because none of Plaintiff's impairments met a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 23-24.

[S]ince attaining age 18, [Plaintiff] has had the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §] 416.967(b). He can occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds, 10 pounds frequently. He can sit, stand[, ] and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps/stairs but not ladders, ropes[, ] or scaffolds. He has to work in an air condition[ed] environment with available water-fountain or water supply.

Id.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 24. Accordingly, she proceeded to step five, where she relied on testimony by the VE to find that, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, he was capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 24-25.

         Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act, and she denied the claim. Tr. 25. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 26, 2016. Tr. 1-4. ...


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