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Step Four of the Sequential Evaluation

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The disability evaluation process is broken down into five steps frequently referred to as the "sequential evaluation."  This posting deals with step four of the sequential evaluation.  Other posts discuss the other steps of the sequential evaluation. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is charged with formulating an assessment of a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). At step four, the ALJ must determine what you are still capable of doing despite your physical and mental limitations, which is called a "residual functional capacity." The  RFC is then used to determine whether you are able to perform your past work or, if not, what jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy you are still able to do.

Court of Appeals holding

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that is permissible for an ALJ to adjust a medical opinion in favor of a claimant for Social Security benefits.  “Here, we hold only that, if a medical opinion adverse to the claimant has properly been given substantial weight, the ALJ does not commit reversible error by electing to temper its extremes for the claimant's benefit.” Chapo v. Astrue, 682 F.3d 1285, 1288 (10th Cir. 2012).  The Courts have also ruled that there is “there is no requirement in the regulations for a direct correspondence between an RFC finding and a specific medical opinion on the functional capacity in question.” Id.  “[T]he ALJ, not a physician, is charged with determining a claimant's RFC from the medical record.” Howard v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 945, 949 (10th Cir.2004) (following 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(e)(2) and SSR 96–59, 1996 WL 374183, at *5); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c) and 416.946(c). We have thus “rejected [the] argument that there must be specific, affirmative, medical evidence on the record as to each requirement of an exertional work level before an ALJ can determine RFC within that category.” Howard, 379 F.3d at 949; see, e.g., Wall, 561 F.3d at 1068–69 (upholding ALJ's findings on mental impairment where record did not contain any treating or examining medical opinions as to allegedly disabling pain disorder); Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 302–03 (10th Cir.1988) (holding ALJ properly made mental RFC findings without expert medical assistance).

If you have questions about Financial Eligibility & Social Security Disability Insurance, it is a wise idea to talk to a knowledgeable disability lawyer at Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC or its disability arm, Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today. Conveniently located in downtown Denver, our law firm can be reached at (303) 534-1958 or by filling out our online form.

 

About the AuthorJoe Whitcomb

Joe Whitcomb is the founder and president of Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC (WSM). In addition, he manages the firm and heads up the Government Procurement and International Business Transactions Law sections. As a result of his military service as a U.S. Army Ranger and as a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force, he learned mission accomplishment. While serving in the Air Force, he earned his Bachelor’s in Social Sciences and a Master’s in International Relations. His Master’s emphasis was on National Security and International Political Economics. After his military career, Joe attended law school at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

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