United States District Court, D. Colorado
TONI A. LEHMAN, 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 disability insurance benefits. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.
In April 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. (ECF No. 11, Administrative Record (AR) 126-32.) Plaintiff claimed that she became disabled on October 15, 2008, due to degenerative disc disease, migraines, lower back, neck, and shoulder pain, and mild depression. ( Id. 145.) Born in 1965, Plaintiff was 43 years old on her alleged onset of disability date and 46 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. ( Id. 23, 126). She has a high school education, plus one year of college ( id. 146), and worked in the past as a certified nurse assistant. ( Id. 147.)
After Plaintiff's application was denied initially (AR 66, 75-77), she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"]. ( Id. 80-81.) Following a hearing in July 2011, the ALJ issued a decision dated August 18, 2011, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ["the Act"]. ( Id. 10-23.)
More specifically, in the sequential evaluation process pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2013 (AR 12). She also found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2008, the alleged onset date. ( Id. 12.)
At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: status-post cervical fusion and depression. (AR 13.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the criteria of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, app. 1. ( Id. )
The ALJ then addressed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ["RFC"]. She found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 1567(b), with the following additional limitations: no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; no work requiring repetitive or prolonged flexion or extension of the neck; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold, environmental irritants, dangerous machinery, and unprotected heights; could follow one and two-step instructions, concentrate for up to two hours at a time, and complete predictable tasks; and should have limited contact with the general public. (AR 15.)
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 21.) At step five, however, the ALJ found that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including office cleaner, cafeteria attendant, and packager. ( Id. 22, 56.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from October 15, 2008, through August 18, 2011, the date of the decision. ( Id. 23.)
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-5), 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 erred by failing to express the RFC finding on a function-by-function basis, and that she failed to properly assess the severity of her headache condition. Plaintiff also argues that the physical restrictions in the RFC finding are not supported by any evidence in the record, and that the ALJ failed to properly assess her mental impairments. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the treating physician opinion.
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 ...