United States District Court, D. Colorado
JODY E. FERRIER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Jody E. Ferrier, Plaintiff: Patrick C.H. Spencer, II, LEAD ATTORNEY, Spencer & Spencer P.C., Colorado Springs, CO.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: David I. Blower, LEAD ATTORNEY, 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 December 26, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI 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.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled as a result of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, pain and edema of the lower extremities, and morbid obesity. After her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on May 23, 2012. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 32 years old. She has a college degree and past relevant work experience as a truck driver. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 29, 2009, her alleged date of onset.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income benefits. Although the medical 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 were determined to be non-severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work with certain postural, environmental, and non-exertional restrictions. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that she could perform. She therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step 5 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 her physical and/or mental impairments preclude her from performing both her 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 quinquepartite, 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 ...