United States District Court, D. Colorado
KENDALL B. MARR, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Kendall Blaire Marr, Plaintiff: Ann J. Atkinson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ann J. Atkinson, Attorney at Law, Aurora, CO.
For Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: J. Benedict Garcia, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO; James Lawrence Burgess, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO.
ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO COMMISSIONER
Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.
The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], filed May 8, 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 and remand.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with associated upper extremity radiculopathy, migraines, and depression. After his application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on December 8, 2011. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 46 years old. He has college and post-graduate degrees and past relevant work experience as a chiropractor and retail supervisor. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity November 14, 2008, his alleged date of onset.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits. Although the evidence established that plaintiff suffered from severe physical impairments, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Plaintiff's alleged mental impairment was found to be not severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work with postural limitations intended to account for his cervical complaints. Based on that determination, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a supervisor. Alternatively, the ALJ found that, even if plaintiff's past relevant work were precluded, there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that he could perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at both step four and step five of the sequential evaluation. Plaintiff appealed this 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
condition must be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months. See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir. 1995).
The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled:
1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment is " severe." A " severe impairment" must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or equals in severity certain impairments described in ...