Warden v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner of
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER. The plaintiff's appeal is denied and the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed. Signed by District Judge J. Thomas Marten on 2/14/2018. (mam)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
MICHELLE DIANE WARDEN,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Michelle Warden filed for disability and disability insurance benefits, contending
that she became disabled on March 31, 2011 due to coronary vasospasm. The claim was
denied initially on October 24, 2013, and on reconsideration on March 19, 2014. Warden
sought review of these decisions, and appeared at an evidentiary hearing conducted by
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Edward Evans on January 14, 2015. Judge Evans
determined that Warden’s heart condition did not arise until after her last date of insured
The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled under a five-step
sequential evaluation process (SEP) pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. The
applicant has the initial burden of proof in the first three steps: she must show that she is
not engaged in substantial gainful activity, that she has a medically-determinable, severe
ailment, and whether that impairment matches one of the listed impairments of 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt P., app. 1. See Ray v. Bowen, 865 F.2d 222, 224 (10th Cir. 1989). If a claimant
shows that she cannot return to her former work, the Commissioner has the burden of
showing that she can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). See Channel v. Heckler, 747 F.2d 577, 579 (10th Cir. 1984).
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is governed by 42 U.S.C. 405(g)
of the Social Security Act. Under the statute, the Commissioner’s decision will be upheld
so long as it applies the “correct legal standard,” and is supported by “substantial
evidence” in the record as a whole. Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir. 1994).
Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It
is satisfied by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support the conclusion. The
question of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision is not a
mere quantitative exercise; evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence, or in reality is a mere conclusion. Ray, 865 F.2d at 224. The court must scrutinize
the whole record in determining whether the Commissioner’s conclusions are rational.
Graham v. Sullivan, 794 F. Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1992). The court will not reweigh the
evidence. “The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does
not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial
evidence.” Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004). Thus the court will not
“displace the agenc[y's] choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the court
would justifiably have made a different choice had the matter been before it de novo.” Id.
See Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (applying Zoltanski in reviewing ALJ’s
social security decision).
This deferential review is limited to factual determinations; it does not apply to the
Commisioner’s conclusions of law. Applying an incorrect legal standard, or providing the
court with an insufficient basis to determine that correct legal principles were applied, is
grounds for reversal. Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 512 (10th Cir. 1987).
Here, Warden’s last date of insured status under the Social Security Act, and the
date she contends she became disabled, was March 31, 2011. In the present appeal, Warden
contends that the ALJ erred by determining that her impairment did not arise until after
March 31, 2011. She supports her appeal by citing various portions of the medical record
(Dkt. 8, at 3-6) as demonstrating the existence of a disability prior to the end of insured
The court finds that the ALJ’s determination was supported by substantial evidence.
The evidence shows that Warren began to receive treatment for coronary vasospasm after
a coronary episode that occurred on May 20, 2011. At that time, she reported chest
discomfort, elevated blood pressure, and nausea. An extensive cardiac examination
produced no significant results. An x-ray and EKG were unremarkable, but a
catheterization in August, 2011 noted some vasospasm in the left circumflex artery.
Warden has submitted additional reports of chest pain since that time.
However, as the ALJ noted, all of this evidence demonstrates this condition arose
after the end of plaintiff’s insured status on March 31, 2011. The evidence before that time
shows some history of hypertension, but no evidence of disability. When nurse practioner
speaking with Warden in 2006 noted some evidence of hypertension, Warden was placed
on blood pressure medication. A consultation on February 28, 2007 noted that Warden had
a history of hypertension, but that it “seems to be controlled” with medication. (Tr. 434).
The examination indicated “regular rate and rhythm” as to Warden’s heart beat, and most
of the consultation was devoted to discussing the need to stop smoking and start
exercising. (Tr. 435). Dr. Jason Williams told Warden that her “blood pressure is wellcontrolled.” (Id.).
On December 18, 2009, Warden saw Dr. Tim McVay. She was “[w]ell appearing,
well nourished in no distress.” (Tr. 432). Dr. McVay noted, after the examination, that
Warden’s heart exhibited “no cardiomegaly or thrills; regular rate and rhythm, no murmur
or gallop.” (Id.) He prescribed continuing with Zestoretic for her hypertension.
A month later, Warden returned to Dr. McVay, and reported experiencing very low
blood pressure and that “she is very tired and her arms feel heavy.” (Tr. 429). Dr. McVay
prescribed Lisinopril (5 mg) and encouraged her improve her diet. In a follow-up meeting
in February, 2009, Warden reported that she had stopped taking Lisinopril because it was
making her confused. Dr. McVay noted that “these symptoms are certainly strange for this
medicine.” (Tr. 428). He prescribed hydrochlorothiazide “because she has tolerated this
well in the past.” (Id.) Warden did not seek further treatment for hypertension prior to the
end of her insured status.
There is simply no evidence in the medical record that Warden experienced any
medically determinable impairment due to coronary vasospasm until after the end of her
insured status on March 31, 2011. All of the medical records for the plaintiff prior to this
time confirm that she was successfully treated for hypertension several years before. The
ALJ accordingly found that the record failed to demonstrate that Warden “had a medically
determinable impairment prior to the date last insured, much less that her impairment was
severe or debilitating in nature.” (Tr. 15). The court has reviewed the entire medical record,
and finds the ALJ did not err in concluding that the record did not establish any medically
determinable impairment through plaintiff’s date last insured.
IT IS ACCORDINGLY ORDERED this 14th day of February, 2018, that the plaintiff’s
appeal is denied and the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
___s/ J. Thomas Marten______
J. THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?