United States District Court, D. Colorado
For Bobby Sansing, Plaintiff: Joseph Anthony Whitcomb, Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group, Denver, CO.
For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant: J. Benedict Garcia, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO; Jessica Milano, Michael Arlen Thomas, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO.
PHILIP A. BRIMMER, United States District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Bobby Sansing's complaint [Docket No. 1] filed on December 6, 2012. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the " Commissioner") denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the " Act"), 42 U.S.C. § § 401-33 and 1381-83c. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
On March 2, 2010, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act. R. at 11. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since February 26, 2010. Id. After an initial administrative denial of his claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") on February 17, 2012. Id. On March 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. Id. at 19.
The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of " degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine." R. at 14. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, id. at 14-15, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (" RFC") to " perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and should occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; he should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and vibration and moderate exposure to unprotected heights; and the work should be no greater than semi-skilled." Id. at 15. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (" VE"), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a convenience store clerk. Id. at 18-19.
On October 9, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintif f's request for review of the ALJ's denial. Id. at 1. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.
A. Standard of Review
Review of the Commissioner's finding that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). The district court may not reverse an ALJ simply because the court may have reached a different result based on the record; the question instead is whether there is substantial evidence showing that the ALJ was justified in her decision. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990). " Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070, 249 F.App'x 734 (10th Cir. 2007). Moreover, " [e]vidence 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). The district court will not " reweigh the evidence or retry the case, " but must " meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met." Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070. Nevertheless, " 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).
B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months that prevents the claimant from performing any substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)-(2). Furthermore,
[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (2006). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988). The steps of the evaluation are:
(1) whether the claimant is currently working; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the relevant regulation; (4) whether the impairment precludes the claimant from doing his past relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment precludes the claimant from doing any work.
Trimiar v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1326, 1329 (10th Cir. 1992) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f)). A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v. ...