United States District Court, D. Colorado
KENNETH L. JIMINEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
WILEY Y. DANIEL, Senior District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on review of the Commissioner's decision that denied Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ["SSI"] benefits. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.
Plaintiff, born in 1984, filed for SSI benefits on September 23, 2008, when he was 24 years old. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 11, 103-05.) He alleged that he was disabled due to seizures, which he had since childhood, and shoulder and back pain. ( Id. 142.) After Plaintiff's application was denied initially ( id. 52-54), he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ["ALJ"]. A hearing was held in August 2010 ( id. 23-49), and the ALJ issued a decision on February 23, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. ( Id. 11-18.)
More specifically, at step one the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date. (AR 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of "history of back pain, unknown etiology, history of dislocations, right shoulder and seizure disorder." ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments did met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. ( Id. )
The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ["RFC"]. (AR 13-17.) She found that Plaintiff could physically perform light work with the following limitations:
could lift or carry ten pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; could stand or walk, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday; could sit, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday; could perform pushing and pulling motions with his upper and lower extremities within the aforementioned weight restrictions; should avoid unprotected heights or moving machinery; could frequently perform the postural activities of climbing, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling or crawling; should not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and could frequently perform overhead reaching and handling with his dominant right upper extremity.
( Id. 13-14.) The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff is a younger individual within the meaning of the Social Security Act with a limited education. ( Id. 17.)
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (AR 17.) At step five, relying on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. ( Id. 17-18.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled since September 23, 2008, the date the application was filed. ( Id. 18.)
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's June 2010 decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff timely requested judicial review, and this appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the treating physicians' opinions, did not properly evaluate at step three whether Plaintiff meets a listing for epilepsy/seizures, and improperly rejected the testimony of lay witness Pamela Barela. He also argues that the court should award benefits rather than remanding for another hearing as he asserts that he meets the requirements of Listing 11.02 found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. B, App. 1.
A. Standard of Review
A Court's review of the determination that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hamilton v. Sec. of Health and Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence is evidence a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196 (10th Cir. 1990). "It requires more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance of the evidence." Gossett v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 802, 804 (10th Cir. 1988).
"Evidence 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). Further, "if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from ...