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Thomas v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 22, 2014

MAURICE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Maurice Thomas, Plaintiff: Kristina Jo Vasold, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sawaya & Miller Law Firm, Denver, CO.

For Carolyn Colvin, Acting commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Alexess D. Rea, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jennifer Ann Randall, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO; J. Benedict Garcia, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO.

Page 1175

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 July 31, 2013, seeking

Page 1176

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 on the limited grounds noted here.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of degenerative disc disease of the spine, migraine headaches, bilateral shoulder impairments, and bilateral plantar fasciitis. After his application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on March 16, 2012. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 46years old. He has an associate's degree in engineering management and past relevant work experience as a communications and cable maintenance worker, systems controller, and IT consultant. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008, his 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 impairments, the judge concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Other alleged impairments were found not severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light to sedentary work with further postural and environmental limitations. Based on this determination, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as an IT consultant. Alternatively, the ALJ found that even if plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work, there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that he could perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at both step four and step five 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 his physical and/or mental impairments preclude him from performing both his 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 ...


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