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Thomas v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 18, 2014

JAMES K. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff James K. Thomas' opening brief [Docket No. 12], filed on April 23, 2013. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the "Commissioner")[1] 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.[2] The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

On July 6, 2005, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act. R. at 11. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since July 28, 2003. Id. After an initial administrative denial of his claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 7, 2006. Id. On February 23, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. Id. at 21.

The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe combination of impairments: "arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus." R. at 15. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id., and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:

perform an essentially full range of sedentary work. He is able to lift and/or carry up to 10 pounds occasionally and lesser weights more frequently. He can sit for 8 hours in an 8-hour workday, and he can stand and/or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, with routine breaks. The claimant should avoid repetitive bending, stooping, squatting, kneeling, or twisting.

Id. Based upon this RFC and the application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, the ALJ concluded that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform." R. at 20.

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of this denial. R. at 3. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to this Court. R. at 344. On March 13, 2009, the Court reversed the denial of plaintiff's claim for benefits and remanded the matter to the ALJ with instructions to make "further findings... regarding claimant's ability to work on a sustained basis" in formulating plaintiff's RFC. R. at 335; Case No. 8-cv-00005-PAB, Transcript of Ruling [Docket No. 21] at 12, ll.3-7 (D. Colo. Apr. 15, 2009). After a hearing on October 21, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim on November 30, 2009. R. at 310, 320.

The ALJ found that, through his date last insured, plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus." R. at 314. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id., and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to: "perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with occasional bending, squatting, and kneeling and no over chest level work." Id. Based upon this RFC and the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ concluded that, through plaintiff's date last insured of March 31, 2009, "there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed." R. at 319.

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of this denial. R. at 288. Consequently, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. ANALYSIS

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 ...


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