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Bellon v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 23, 2014

CHERYL A. BELLON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ'S DECISION DENYING DISABILITY BENEFITS

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Cheryl Bellon's appeal of the Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability benefits. Exercising jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court affirms the judgment of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").

I. BACKGROUND

At the alleged onset date of Plaintiff's disability in April 1998, Plaintiff was 44 years old. She claims she has been disabled since that date due to "cervical cancer, anxiety attacks, arthritis, diarrhea[, and] nausea." AR 201. As alleged by Plaintiff, these symptoms have manifested principally as follows:

• Anxiety: Plaintiff alleges she first experienced anxiety attacks in the mid-1990s and that they caused her to avoid social events and crowded places. These problems persist to this day.
• Diarrhea: Plaintiff was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1996. She underwent chemotherapy, which left her nauseated and with diarrhea. She claims that she has disabling diarrhea to this day, normally after eating meals, and that as a result she cannot maintain any activity that is far from-or precludes frequent trips to-a bathroom.
• Arthritis and related limitations on motor function: Plaintiff claims she suffers from arthritis in her shoulders, hands, right hip, both knees, and right ankle. This arthritis has caused her to have trouble with, inter alia, lifting and grasping objects. She further alleges that this arthritis is exacerbated by "clubbing, " which the parties describe as the bulbous enlargement of the ends of one or more of Plaintiff's fingers.

See, e.g., AR 41-48, 223, 225, 227, 230; see also Doc. # 18, at 5 n.2 (providing definitions of "clubbing").

Plaintiff's self-reporting about these disabilities is in tension with other evidence that is included in the record. As an initial matter, there is no medical evidence to support any of Plaintiff's contentions about her disabilities prior to 2008-this appears to be because Plaintiff decided not to provide any such evidence. Further, much of the evidence in the post-2008 medical records calls into question Plaintiff's allegations about her allegedly disabling anxiety, [1] diarrhea, [2] and arthritis.[3]

On February 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits. The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating disability claims. AR 23-32. As relevant here, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitation: no dealing with the general public." AR 29. Although Plaintiff had no past relevant work, the ALJ concluded-consistent with testimony from a vocational expert at a hearing on Plaintiff's claims-that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. AR 31-32. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability between April 1, 1998, and the date of his decision. AR 32.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review of the ALJ's determination is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner-through the ALJ-applied the correct legal standards. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).

Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1084. In reviewing the record and the arguments of counsel, the Court does not reexamine the issues de novo, Sisco v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir. 1993), nor does it re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. 2006). Thus, even when some evidence may have supported contrary findings, the Court "may not displace the agency's choice between two ...


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