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Ortiz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

March 8, 2017

EILEEN D. ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          C.J. Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................... 2

         II. BACKGROUND ................................................................................ 2

         III. DISABILITY DETERMINATOINS AND THE BURDEN OF

         PROOF ........................................................................................ 3

         IV. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS ..................................................................... 6

         V. DISCUSSION ................................................................................... 7

         A. The Substantial Evidence Standard ............................................. 8

         B. Whether Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity Assessment ................................................. 9

         1. Evidence of Claimant's Mental Impairments and Work Limitations ......................................................... 12

         2. Evidence of Claimant's Physical Impairments and Work Limitations ......................................................... 15

         C. Whether Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Credibility Determination ....................................................... 17

         VI. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 23

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Eileen D. Oritz (claimant), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq. Claimant alleged she was disabled because of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain. Although the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found claimant had severe impairments consisting of degenerative disc disease, arthritis of the right knee, obesity, schizoaffective disorder with depression and psychotic ideation, anxiety and elements of a post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorder, he found claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with certain exertional and non-exertional limitations. The ALJ found claimant could not perform past relevant work, but found a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that claimant could perform. Therefore, the ALJ found claimant was not disabled. Claimant contends the ALJ erred when he improperly: (1) weighed the opinion of the only examining physician; and (2) discounted claimant's credibility.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Ortiz was born in 1968; at the time claimant alleged she became disabled, she was 42 years old. AR 33, 205.[1] At the time of the ALJ's decision, claimant was 45 years old. AR 30, 99. Claimant completed eleven years of schooling and did not attend special education. AR 243. Claimant had past relevant work experience as a food processor and meat processor. AR 90.

         The Commissioner denied claimant's application initially and upon reconsideration. AR 136-39, 146-50. Claimant then requested a hearing before an ALJ. On April 9, 2014, ALJ Eric S. Basse conducted a hearing at which claimant and a vocational expert testified. AR 50-96. On June 6, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying claimant's claim. AR 33-44.

         On November 5, 2015, the Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review. AR 1-5. The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         On January 5, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Doc. 3. The parties briefed the issues (Docs. 13 & 14) and on July 26, 2016, this case was deemed ready for decision (Doc. 15). On August 29, 2016, with the consent of the parties, United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade transferred this case to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. Doc. 16.

         III. DISABILITY DETERMINATOINS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF

         A disability is defined 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); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant has a disability when the claimant 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 significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the regulations. Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled.

         Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner looks to see “whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities.” Dixon v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003). “An impairment is not severe if it amounts only to a slight abnormality that would not significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707.

         The ability to perform basic work activities is defined as “the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b). These abilities and aptitudes include: (1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking; (3) understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations; and (6) dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987). “The sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two only when the claimant's impairment ...


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