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Hart v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 16, 2014

NORMA C. HART, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Norma C. Hart, Plaintiff: Anthony L. Sokolow, LEAD ATTORNEY, Anthony L. Sokolow, P.C., Colorado Springs, CO.

For Carolyn W Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: J. Benedict Garcia, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO; Stephanie Lynn Fishkin Kiley, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO.

Page 1281

ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO COMMISSIONER

Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.

The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint

Page 1282

[#1],[1] filed May 31, 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 she is disabled as a result of back pain, neuropathy, and obesity. After her application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on April 2, 2012. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 60 years old. She has a college degree and past relevant work experience as a bus dispatcher and a cook. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity September 9, 2009, her amended 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. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of sedentary work. Based on that determination, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a dispatcher. She therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step four 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 ...

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