United States District Court, D. Colorado
MANUEL R. MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Manuel R. Martinez' complaint [Docket No. 1], filed on April 13, 2012. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the "Commissioner") denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83c. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
On February 8, 2010, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Act. R. at 10. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since November 12, 2008. Id. After an initial administrative denial of his claim, plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on May 19, 2011, at which his attorney appeared, but he did not. Id. On June 21, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. Id. at 24.
The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and thoracic spine, degenerative joint disease of the knees and hips, obesity, and hypertension." R. at 13. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id. at 17, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
"perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can only occasionally climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Moreover, he can only frequently balance.
R. at 17-18. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ concluded that "[t]he claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a fast food worker, sales attendant, and collections clerk." R. at 23.
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of this denial. R. at 1. Consequently, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.
A. Standard of Review
Review of the Commissioner's finding that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). The district court may not reverse an ALJ simply because the court may have reached a different result based on the record; the question instead is whether there is substantial evidence showing that the ALJ was justified in her decision. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007). Moreover, "[e]vidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion." Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The district court will not "reweigh the evidence or retry the case, " but must "meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met." Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070. Nevertheless, "if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence." Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).
B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months that prevents the claimant from performing any substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)-(2). Furthermore,
[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he ...