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Ledama v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 15, 2018

Laura L. Ledama, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          Gregg B. Nelson, Nelson Law Office, Thomas A. Krause, Schott, Mauss & Associates, PLLC, counsel for Ms. Ledama

          Pamela Marentette, United States Attorney's Office, counsel for defendant


          Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Laura Lee Ledama appeals the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits, Compl. ECF No. 1, and the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 17; Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 20. Ms. Ledama asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the matter “for the calculation and payment of benefits, ” or alternatively for further proceedings. Pl.'s Mem. at 21, ECF No. 18. The Commissioner asks that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision as legally sound and supported by substantial evidence. Def.'s Mem. at 16, ECF No. 21. For the reasons that follow, Ms. Ledama's motion is denied, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. Background

         On March 11, 2013, Ms. Ledama filed the application at issue in this matter. Pl.'s Mem. at 2. She applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability with an onset date of June 9, 2012. Id. Ms. Ledama is forty-four years old, and suffers from migraine headaches, chronic neck pain, ongoing degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, and “chronic pain syndrome versus fibromyalgia.” Admin. R. (“AR”) at 23, ECF No. 12.[1] Ms. Ledama worked as an administrative assistant from 2004 through 2011, and has also worked as a personal care assistant and a childcare provider. Id. at 281. In 2011, she took long-term disability, which ended in June 2012 when the insurance company determined she was no longer disabled. Id. at 77-78. Ms. Ledama previously applied for disability insurance benefits in 2010 alleging disability starting in 2009, but her application was denied initially, on reconsideration, after hearing by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and on appeal to the appeals council. Id. at 92, 111.

         Ms. Ledama's March 2013 application-the one at issue here-was denied initially in August 2013 and on reconsideration in January 2014. Id. at 117-138, 141-168. Ms. Ledama requested a hearing in the matter, and an ALJ conducted such a hearing in February 2015. Id. at 187-88, 72-87. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Ledama and from an impartial vocational expert. Id. at 72-87. The ALJ affirmed the denial of benefits in a detailed decision issued later that month. Id. at 24-44.

         In that decision, the ALJ followed the well-known sequential process for considering claims for DIB and SSI. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920 (a). The ALJ found that:

(1) Ms. Ledama had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 9, 2012;
(2) Ms. Ledama has severe physical impairments that would affect her ability to work;
(3) Ms. Ledama's impairments do not meet or medically equal the “listings” set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1;
(4) Ms. Ledama's impairments necessitate some limitations on her work, but Ms. Ledama has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work; and
(5) With the prescribed limitations, Ms. Ledama would still be capable of performing her past work as an administrative assistant or childcare worker.

See AR at 29-42. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner after the appeals council denied Ms. Ledama's request for review in May 2016. Id. at 10-14. She filed the complaint in the instant matter the following September, and the matter is now before the Court for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Compl.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the Commissioner's findings “as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This review is deferential, see Kelley v. Barnhart, 372 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir. 2004), and is “limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence based on the entire record to support the ALJ's factual findings, and whether [the] decision was based on legal error.” Clark v. Chater, 75 F.3d 414, 416 (8th Cir. 1996); see also Baker v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 882, 892 (8th Cir. 2006); Tellez v. Barnhart, 403 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Where substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, the Court should not reverse those findings merely because other evidence exists in the record to support the opposite conclusion. Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 1994).

         III. Analysis

         In support of her motion, Ms. Ledama argues that the ALJ inadequately considered her fibromyalgia in determining her RFC and that he improperly weighed the opinions of two medical sources. Pl.'s Mem. at 11-20. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ adequately considered and appropriately discounted the opinions of those two medical sources and ...

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