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Russ v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 15, 2014

MELISSA RUSS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Melissa Russ, Plaintiff: Joseph Anthony Whitcomb, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group, Denver, CO.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, 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.

Page 1275

ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO COMMISSIONER

Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.

The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1],[1] filed May 20, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI 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 she is disabled as a result of fibromyalgia, endometriosis, migraines, and depression. After her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on December 13, 2011. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 35 years old. She has an associates degree with some additional college courses, and past relevant work experience as a teacher's assistant, janitor, and kennel attendant. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2005, her alleged date of onset.

Page 1276

The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income benefits. Although the medical evidence established that plaintiff's fibromyalgia and depression constituted severe 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 endometriosis and migraines were determined to be non-severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary to light work with certain postural and environmental restrictions. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that she could perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step 5 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 her physical and/or mental impairments preclude her from performing both her 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 ...

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