United States District Court, D. Colorado
JENNIFER A. McGOWAN, 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 benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ["the Act"], 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. For the reasons stated below, this case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further fact finding.
In October 2007, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for disability benefits. (ECF No. 13, Administrative Record ["AR"] 137-44.) She claimed that she became disabled on November 4, 2001, due to a back impairment. ( Id. 183.) Plaintiff, born in 1970, was 31 years old on her alleged onset of disability date and 38 years old when her insured status expired on September 30, 2008. ( Id. 137, 163.)
After the State agency denied Plaintiff's claim (AR 84-88), she requested a hearing before an ALJ. ( Id. 89-90.) Following a hearing ( id. 45-83), an ALJ concluded in a decision dated September 28, 2009, that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. ( Id. 19-27.)
The Appeals Council declined review of the ALJ's decision. (AR 1-4.) Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision in this Court, the case was assigned to me, and I remanded the case for further proceedings by Order dated September 24, 2012 ["remand order"]. ( Id. 677-95.)
Pursuant to the remand order, the ALJ's decision was vacated by the Appeals Council. The Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. ( Id. 698.) After a new hearing ( id. 613-56), the ALJ again determined in a decision dated May 12, 2013, that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. ( Id. 602-12.)
More specifically, in the sequential evaluation process required by law, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on September 30, 2008. (AR 605.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of November 4, 2001, through her date last insured. ( Id. )
At step two, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: degenerative disc disease and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. (AR 605.) 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"]. (AR 606-10.) She found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: lift and/or carry ten pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, requires a sit/stand option while remaining at the workstation, meaning that she can sit/stand at will while performing her assigned duties; can stand and/or walk, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; can sit, with normal breaks, for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; can perform pushing and pulling motions with her upper and lower extremities within the given weight restrictions; and can occasionally perform postural activities of stooping, crouching, and bending, that does not require exposure to unprotected heights." ( Id. 606.)
The ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 610.) At step five, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. ( Id. 611.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act at any time from November 4, 2001, through September 30, 2008, the date last insured (and the date last eligible to receive benefits). ( Id. 611.) This appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ violated this Court's remand order and improperly evaluated the medical source opinions. She also argues that the ALJ failed to properly determine Plaintiff's RFC, that her analysis of medical evidence and pain was faulty, and that the ALJ failed to meet the Commissioner's 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). "[I]f 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 ...