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Gutierrez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 9, 2014

ALVIN GUTIERREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Alvin R. Gutierrez, Plaintiff: James Richard Koncilja, LEAD ATTORNEY, Koncilja & Koncilja, P.C., Pueblo, CO.

For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Alexess D. Rea, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael Sinclair Howard, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO; J. Benedict Garcia, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO.

Page 1199

ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION, DIRECTING AWARD OF BENEFITS, AND REMANDING FOR DETERMINATION OF DATE OF ONSET ONLY

Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.

The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1],[2] filed January 10, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. I reverse the decision and direct an award of benefits in plaintiff's favor, remanding only for the purpose of establishing the alleged date of onset.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of post traumatic stress disorder

Page 1200

(" PTSD" ), degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and obesity.[3] After his application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Following an unfavorable decision, plaintiff appealed to this court. Finding that the ALJ had failed to adequately articulate her rationale for the weights she assigned the competing medical opinions of record, I remanded the case for further proceedings. See Gutierrez v. Astrue, 2008 WL 5246300 (D. Colo. Dec. 15, 2008). A second hearing resulted in another unfavorable administrative decision, but the Appeals Council remanded to a different ALJ for further development of the record. (Tr. 536-538.)

A third administrative hearing -- which forms the basis of the instant appeal -- was held on July 24, 2012, before a new ALJ. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 63 years old. He has an associates degree in business management and has past relevant work experience as a kitchen helper, cashier, janitor, and printer. He did not engage in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to the period of time under consideration by the ALJ.[4]

The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits. Although the medical evidence established that plaintiff suffered fro severe impairments, the judge concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light, unskilled work with certain postural restrictions which required no direct contact with coworkers and minimal to no direct contact with the general public. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the judge concluded that there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy he could perform. She therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if his physical and/or mental impairments preclude him from performing both his previous work and any other " substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). " When a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social Security [Act] requires the [Commissioner] to consider the combined effects of the impairments in making a disability determination." Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d 1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C)). However, the mere existence of a severe impairment or combination of impairments does not require a finding that an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. To be disabling, the claimant's

Page 1201

condition must be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months. See Kelley v. ...


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