United States District Court, D. Colorado
DEBRA D. TERRELL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
WILEY Y. DANIEL, Senior District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on review of the Commissioner's decision that denied Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ["SSI"]. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.
In early 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI with an alleged onset date of disability of July 1, 2001. (ECF No. 13, Administrative Record ["AR"] 134-40.) Plaintiff was 38 years old when she applied for benefits in 2010. ( Id. 44.) Following the initial administrative denial on January 21, 2011 (AR 97-100), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"]. ( Id. ) The hearing was held on October 31, 2011 before ALJ K. Kwon. ( Id. 38-82.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision dated December 30, 2011. ( Id. 19-37.)
In the sequential evaluation process required by law, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 18, 2010. (AR 24.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, lupus, personality disorder, and depressive disorder. ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments.
The ALJ then addressed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ["RFC"], finding that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) except she requires jobs that allow a sit/stand option. (AR 26.) Additionally, Plaintiff is restricted from climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and is to avoid high production work such as work on a conveyor belt or similar high production assembly work. ( Id. )
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not capable of performing past relevant work as a product assembler, cashier and warehouse worker. (AR 31.) At step five, the ALJ relied on vocational expert testimony in finding that Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. ( Id. 31-32). This included work as a photocopying - machine operator (DOT No. 207.685-014) and counter clerk - photo finishing (DOT No. 249.366-010). ( Id. 32.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. ( Id. )
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-8), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff timely requested judicial review, and this appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's final decision is in contradiction to the substantial evidence in the record, as the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her severe impairments, treating source opinions, listings of impairments, RFC, and credibility. As a result, Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner improperly denied her disability benefits, and requests that the ALJ's decision be reversed for payment of benefits or remanded for a new hearing.
A. Standard of Review
A Court's review of the determination that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hamilton v. Sec. of Health and Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence is evidence a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196 (10th Cir. 1990). "It requires more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance of the evidence." Gossett v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 802, 804 (10th Cir. 1988).
"Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion." Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Further, "if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from substantial evidence." Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). However, the court "must exercise common sense' in reviewing an ALJ's decision and must not insist on technical perfection.'" Jones v. Colvin, 514 F.Appx. 813, 823 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (2012)).
The ALJ's decision must be evaluated "based solely on the reasons given stated in the decision." Robinson v. Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1084 (10th Cir. 2004). A post-hoc rationale is improper because it usurps the agency's function of weighing and balancing the evidence in the first instance. Carpenter v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 1264, ...