Step Four of the Sequential Evaluation: What can you still do?

The ALJ is charged with formulating an RFC

The disability 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.  At step four, the ALJ must determine what you are still capable of doing despite your physical and mental limitations.  What you are still able to do is called a “residual functional capacity” or RFC.  This RFC is then used to determine whether you are able to perform your past work or, if not, what jobs that exists in significant numbers in the national economy you are still able to do.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that is OK 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).1

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