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Estrada v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 20, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


RICHARD G. KOPF, Senior District Judge.

In this social security appeal, plaintiff Teresa Ann Estrada ("Estrada") argues that the Commissioner of Social Security committed reversible error in determining that she is not entitled to disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


On March 16, 2011, Estrada filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. (Tr. 9, 117-29.) In her applications, Estrada alleged that she has been disabled since December 31, 2008. (Tr. 13.) Estrada's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. ( Id. ) On May 17, 2012, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding that Estrada was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 9-19.) In his decision, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Social Security Regulations to evaluate Estrada's disability claim.[1] See 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520, 416.920. The ALJ found as follows:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.871 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: disorders of the back, obesity, degenerative joint disease in the right knee, and a history of bone spurs in the feet (20 CFR 202.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), in that, she can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 10 pounds occasionally, stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Any job must allow for the claimant to alternate between sitting and standing up to every 30 minutes as needed. The claimant also has the following nonexertional limitations that further limit her ability to perform light work: can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but should never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; should avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperature extremes and vibrating machinery; and should avoid unprotected heights and hazardous moving machinery. Secondary to reported chronic pain, the claimant is limited to jobs that do not demand attention to detail or complicated job tasks/instructions.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on November 13, 1960 and was 48 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onsent date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exit in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.964(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from December 31, 2008, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 11-19.) After the ALJ issued his decision, Estrada filed a request for a review with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 1-5.) On April 23, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Estrada's request for review. ( Id. ) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.


A denial of benefits by the Commissioner is reviewed to determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Hogan v. Apfel 239 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence" is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion. Id. at 960-61; Prosch v. Apfel 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). Evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision must be considered, but the decision may not be reversed merely because substantial evidence supports a contrary outcome. See Moad v. Massanari 260 F.3d 887, 890 (8th Cir. 2001).

This court must also review the decision of the Commissioner to decide whether the proper legal standard was applied in reaching the result. Smith v. Sullivan 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992). Issues of law are reviewed de novo. Olson v. Apfel 170 F.3d 820, 822 (8th Cir. 1999); Boock v. Shalala 48 F.3d 348, 351 n.2 (8th Cir. 1995).


A. Relevant Medical History and Opinions

In her Disability Report, Estrada alleged that bone spurs and a "bad back" were the physical conditions that limited her ability to work. (Tr. 173.) However, Estrada's medical history ...

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