United States District Court, D. Colorado
CHAMBRE D. REED, 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. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.
In May 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income. She alleged that she was disabled by limitations caused by injuries to her back, shoulder and neck and obsessive compulsive disorder ["OCD"], and that her disability began on September 1, 2007. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 153-56, 166.) Plaintiff was born on April 17, 1986, and was 24 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed. ( Id. 21.)
Following the initial denial of her application (AR 45-61), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"]. The hearing was held on December 18, 2011. ( Id. 26-46.)
On January 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 11-25.) In the sequential evaluation process required by law, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 5, 2010, the application date. ( Id. 16.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: recurrent OCD, obesity, anxiety, and back strain. ( 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. ( Id. )
The ALJ then addressed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ["RFC"]. He found that she has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) with the option to alternate, at will, between sitting and standing; no more than occasional bending, squatting, or kneeling; no over chest level work; no complex tasks (SVP of 2 or less); and no dealing with the general public. (AR 18.)
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (AR 18.) 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 1-3), 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 failed to properly determine her RFC and credibility. Among other things, she asserts that the ALJ erred in the evaluation of the medical evidence regarding her OCD, agoraphobia, anxiety and other diagnoses, and failed to properly evaluate the combined effects of her mental impairments. She further argues that the underdeveloped nature of the step-three and RFC evaluations negatively affected the rating of the degree of her mental functional limitations. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in connection with evaluating her physical impairments, and that the ALJ did not meet his burden at step five.
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, ...