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US District Court Hears Review of Denial of Disability Benefits

by Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC / December 31, 2020

A plaintiff, abbreviated A.L.M., filed an action to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the Plaintiff’s application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The case was heard by the United States District Court of Kansas and decided in December 2020. The Court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision

Standard of Review

The court’s standard of review provides that “the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” The Commissioner’s decision is to be reviewed only to determine whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Substantial evidence is satisfied by evidence a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

A five-step analysis is used by the Commissioner to determine disability. If at any step a finding of disability is not made, the Commissioner refrains from reviewing the claim further. At the first step, the claimant must show he or she is not working at a “substantial gainful activity.” Next, the claimant must show he or she has a severe impairment. At step three, the agency determines whether the impairment is one of listed impairments “presumed severe enough to render one disabled.” If the claimant’s impairment is not one of the listed impairments, the claimant is considered to have residual functional capacity (RFC). Next, the agency determines whether the claimant can perform previous work. If the claimant is unable to do so, the agency determines whether the claimant can perform other jobs that exist “in significant numbers in the national economy.

Background

The Plaintiff alleged she became disabled in June 2014. She filed applications for Title II disability benefits and Title XV supplemental security income in March 2017. She claimed she was denied initially and upon consideration. An Administrative Judge (ALJ) also denied her application in April 2019.

The ALJ found she was engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) between 2014 and 2017, but there was a continuous twelve-month period where she did not engage in SGA. The ALJ found she had several severe impairments that included: asthma, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The ALJ concluded she did not have an impairment, alone or in combination, that met the severity of an impairment listed in the regulations.

The ALJ determined the Plaintiff had RFC to perform light work with certain exceptions. The ALJ found the Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a pet groomer, order taker, or supervisor. In the final step, the ALJ found there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff could perform. The ALJ concluded the Plaintiff was not disabled for the period of June 2014 to the date of the decision.

Analysis

Plaintiff argue the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider whether her impairment of hidradenitis suppurativa met or Listing 8.06. She argued the ALJ “provided no more than a cursory, conclusory recitation” of the listing and failed to engage in a discussion of the evidence. Hidradenitis suppurativa is a part of the list of skin disorders. This listing requires “extensive skin lesions involving both axillae, both inguinal areas or the perineum that persist for at least 3 months despite continuing treatment as prescribed.” The Court found the ALJ expressly considered Listing 8.06. He cited the requirements of the listing before making the finding the listing was not satisfied.

The Court noted that in order for the listing to be met, the lesions must be extensive enough that they would “result in a very serious limitation.” The regulations cite lesions that limit the “use of more than one extremity,” the “ability to do fine and gross motor movements,” or the “ability to ambulate.” The Court stated the Plaintiff cited no evidence of such a serious limitation over a three-month period resulting from her lesions. The ALJ noted there was no medical evidence showing the inability to ambulate effectively or perform fine and gross movements with the upper extremities. The ALJ stated there were no restrictions in her ability to perform routine activities such as cleaning, shopping, maintaining a residence, and caring for herself. The ALJ found this as a strong indication she retained the physical and mental capacity to perform the requisite physical and mental tasks to perform work. Medical opinions were also either given partial or great weight that stated the Plaintiff could perform light work and could sit up to six hours in an eight-hour day. The Court concluded the Plaintiff’s condition was one that created pain and limitations at times, but did not result in a very serious limitation for a three-month period that would meet or medically equal the requirements of Listing 8.06. The Court found the ALJ’s decision was based on correct legal standards and supported by substantial evidence in the record.

Conclusion

The U.S. District Court in Kansas affirmed the Commissioner’s decision. For more information regarding appealing disability decisions by the Social Security Commission, contact Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group.

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