United States District Court, D. Colorado
PEGGY L. WELLS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS
WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ, District Judge.
This social security benefits appeal is before the Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Peggy L. Wells ("Plaintiff") challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for disability insurance benefits. The denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who ruled Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This appeal followed.
For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security disability benefits is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff Peggy L. Wells ("Plaintiff") was born on June 18, 1961 and was 46 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (Admin. Record ("R.") (ECF No. 11) at 25.) Plaintiff has at least a high school education and prior work experience as a campground maintenance worker, food preparer, thrift store owner/manager, wait staff, and retail grocery worker. ( Id. )
Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on April 15, 2008, alleging that she had been disabled since March 28, 2008 due to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. (R. 71, 145.) Her disability onset date was later amended to August 23, 2007. (R. 11.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied on July 1, 2008. (R. 71.)
After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff's claims were heard by Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William Musseman on March 5, 2010. (R. 38.) Plaintiff and vocational expert Dennis Duffin testified at the administrative hearing. (R. 39.) On April 2, 2010, ALJ Musseman issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 53-63.) Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, which remanded her case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (R. 67-70.)
ALJ Musseman held a second hearing on March 23, 2011. (R. 32.) Plaintiff was the only witness who testified at this hearing. (R. 35-36.) On June 9, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process. (R. 8-31.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 23, 2007. (R. 13.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff suffered from an affective disorder and an anxiety disorder, both of which were severe impairments. (R. 14.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's affective and anxiety disorders, while severe impairments, did not meet any of the impairments or combination of impairments listed in the social security regulations. (R. 16.) The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), finding that she had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the non-exertional limitations that her work involve "no dealing with the general public, with only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors" and "no complex tasks". (R. 17.) Given this RFC, at step four the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. (R. 25.) At step five, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could work as a hand packager or a floor waxer, both of which exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 26.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and therefore was not entitled to benefits. ( Id. )
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 10, 2013. (R. 1.) Thus, the ALJ's June 9, 2011 decision is the final administrative action for purposes of review.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied. 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. Id. "It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record. Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the Court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the agency. Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. 2006). "On the other hand, if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of substantial evidence." Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).
On appeal, Plaintiff raises three issues: (1) the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinions of treating physicians and counselors; (2) the ALJ erred in giving more weight to a non-examining physican than to Plaintiff's treating physicians; (3) the ALJ's RFC was not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 15 at 17.) The Court will address each of Plaintiff's arguments in turn.
A. Treating Doctors' Medical Opinions
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly weighed the opinions of Dr. Tycner and Dr. Sciammarella, both of whom were Plaintiff's ...