United States District Court, D. Colorado
BRENDA R. NURRE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Brenda R. Nurre's opening brief [Docket No. 13], filed on May 13, 2013. 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 Title II 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 September 17, 2009, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Act. R. at 13. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since July 1, 2008. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 19, 2011. Id. On September 16, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. Id. at 23.
The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following impairments, which, in combination, were severe: "history of partial tear of supraspinatus muscle; status post right knee injury; lumbosacral strain; right tronchanteric bursitis; major depression; anxiety disorder; premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)." R. at 15. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id. at 16, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except the claimant can: stand, walk and sit each six hours in an eight-hour workday; can push and pull with the upper and lower extremities at the light exertional range; cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, vibrations and unprotected heights and unprotected running or operating major manufacturing machinery; can perform work at the semi-skilled level; and should have minimal contact with the general public, supervisors and co-workers.
R. at 17. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ concluded that, through her date last insured, plaintiff was "capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy." 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 ...