United States District Court, D. Colorado
RANDY J. HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Randy J. Henderson, Plaintiff: Rachael Adair Lundy, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael W. Seckar, P.C., Pueblo, CO.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: J. Benedict Garcia, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO; Stephanie Lynn Fishkin Kiley, Social Security Administration-Denver Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO.
ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO COMMISSIONER
Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.
The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], filed August 8, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. I reverse and remand on the limited grounds noted here.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of Meniere's disease with tinnitus, profound sensorineural hearing loss of the right ear and moderate sensorineural hearing loss of the left ear. After his application for disability insurance benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on August 3, 2011. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 54 years old. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as machine operator and a radon tester. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2009, his alleged date of onset. His date last insured was March 31, 2009.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits. Although the evidence established that plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the judge concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Other alleged impairments, namely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and depression, were found not severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to light work with certain postural and environmental limitations. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ concluded that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that he could perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if his physical and/or 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 equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix 1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional capacity to perform her 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 claimant's ...