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Swedlund v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Colorado

December 16, 2014

STEVEN SWEDLUND, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

Boyd N. Boland, Magistrate Judge

This action seeks review of the Commissioner’s decision denying the plaintiff’s claim for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner’s final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. The decision is REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED to the Commissioner.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff filed his applications for benefits on July 7, 2010, stating that he had been disabled due to arthritis, hepatitis C, anxiety, and depression beginning June 20, 2010. Social Security Administrative Record [Doc. #10] (the “Record”), pp. 188-98; 233.[1] The plaintiff was born in 1965 and was 44 years old on his alleged onset of disability date. Id. at p. 188. His applications were denied. Id. at pp. 83-113; 117-23. The plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at p. 124. The hearing was held on March 13, 2012. Id. at p. 1. On April 27, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that the plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. Id. at pp. 62-78. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review. Id. at pp. 45-51. The ALJ’s decision is final for purposes of this court’s review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.[2]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Review of the Commissioner’s disability decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10thCir. 1992); Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196 (10th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is evidence a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Brown, 912 F.2d at 1196. It requires more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of the evidence. Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556 (D. Colo. 1992). “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 a lack of substantial evidence.” Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). Although a reviewing court should meticulously examine the record, it may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner. Id.

III. THE LAW

A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if his physical and 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 whether a claimant is disabled:

1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment is “severe.” A “severe impairment” must significantly limit the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or medically equals in severity certain impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. If the claimant’s impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the RFC to perform his past work, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and substantial work in the economy. This determination is made on the basis of the ...

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