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Mason v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 12, 2015

WILMA MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS

WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ, District Judge.

This is a social security benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff Wilma Mason ("Plaintiff") challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for disability insurance benefits, as well as supplemental security income benefits. The denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who ruled Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This appeal followed. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on April 26, 1971 and was 39 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (Admin. Record ("R.") (ECF No. 15) at 35.) Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (Id. ) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a truck driver, assistant manager, retail, and amusement park worker. (Id. )

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on October 14, 2010.[1] (R. at 22.) Her applications were initially denied on January 21, 2011. (Id. ) After a request for hearing, Plaintiff's claims were heard in a video hearing before ALJ Kim S. Nagle on June 19, 2012. (Id. ) Plaintiff and vocational expert Timothy Shaner testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. )

On June 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process.[2] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 12, 2010, the alleged onset date. (R. at 25.) At step two, she found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with low back pain, obesity, personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and marijuana dependence. (Id. ) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, while severe, did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments or combination of impairments listed in the social security regulations. (R. at 26.)

The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined in the social security regulations, but with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant would require the option to sit or stand alternatively at will while at her workstation provided she is not off-task more than 10% of the work period. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds but can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. The claimant is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a hand-held assistive device required for ambulation, while the contralateral extremity can be used to lift and carry up to her exertional limitation. She should avoid concentrated exposure to dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant should avoid jobs that require teamwork. She is capable of performing simple, work related decisions with ordinary routines and simple instructions. The claimant should have only occasional interaction with the public, her co-workers and supervisors.

(R. at 30.)

At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. (R. at 34-35.) At step five, the ALJ found that there were significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 35.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could work as a packager, assembler, or surveillance systems monitor. (R. at 36.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and, thus, not entitled to benefits. (Id. )

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 21, 2013. (R. at 1.) Plaintiff then filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's Opening Brief was filed on March 14, 2014. (ECF No. 18.) The Commissioner's Response Brief (ECF No. 19) was filed on April 9, 2014, and Plaintiff's Reply Brief (ECF No. 20) was filed on April 25, 2014.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. "It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record. Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the Court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the agency. Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. ...


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