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Malik v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 27, 2014

JEREMY MALIK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

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 disability insurance benefits ["DIB"]. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, born in 1985, applied for DIB benefits in May 2011, alleging disability beginning in January 2011. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 349.) Plaintiff was 25 years old on his alleged onset date, and was thus a younger individual within the meaning of the Social Security Act ["the Act"]. ( Id. 31.) A military veteran, Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression and anxiety, headaches, and chronic lower back pain. ( Id. 104, 143.)

By way of background, Plaintiff was deployed to Iraq from September 2008 through August 2009 where he was a driver for convoy security. (AR 38.) He was responsible for looking out for IEDs, insurgents, and anyone trying to do harm to the convoy. ( Id. 39.) After his return to the United States, Plaintiff complained to his medical providers of having, inter alia, insomnia and nightmares, anxiety attacks, paranoia that someone was trying to kill him, hypervigilance, inability to control his emotions and anger, obsessive thoughts of dying and suicide, social isolation, impaired ability to focus or concentrate, and marital problems. Plaintiff was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in January 2011 and September 2011. ( Id. 39, 244-45, 772-78.) It was recommended that Plaintiff not be retained as a soldier because he could not operate in the military ( id. 218), and he was phased out of the Army. ( Id. )[1]

Plaintiff's application was denied initially (AR 54-65, 67-69), and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ["ALJ"] ( id. 72-73). A hearing was held in March 2012. ( Id. 34-53.) The ALJ issued a decision on April 3, 2012, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. ( Id. 21-33.)

At step one the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's military service since his onset date was neither substantial nor gainful and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that date. (AR 23.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. ( Id. 23-24.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. ( Id. 25.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ["RFC"], finding that while Plaintiff has the capacity "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels", he had certain nonexertional limitations regarding his mental impairments. (AR 26.) These are discussed in Section II.B.1, infra. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. ( Id. 31.) 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. 32.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. ( Id. 33.)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 422.210(a). Plaintiff timely requested judicial review, and this appeal followed.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility, and in particular his complaints about morning drowsiness caused by his medications. He also argues that the ALJ erred in assessing his headaches and in weighing the medical source opinions. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in determining his RFC.

II. ANALYSIS

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 ...


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