United States District Court, D. Colorado
SYLVIA J. GARCIA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Sylvia J. Garcia, Plaintiff: Rachael Adair Lundy, Michael W. Seckar, P.C., Pueblo, CO.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: David I. Blower, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO; J. Benedict Garcia, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.
The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], filed January 9, 2014, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income benefits under Title 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 affirm.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled as a result of chronic back pain related to osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine and depression. After her application for supplemental security income benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on January 14, 2013. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 49 years old. She has an associates degree and past relevant work experience as an electronics assembler, lock assembler, construction cleaner, and driver. She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 30, 2011, the date of her application for benefits.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to supplemental security income benefits. Although the evidence established that plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Other impairments were found to be non-severe. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light, unskilled, low-stress work which did not require frequent or prolonged contact with supervisors, co-workers, or the general public. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national and local economies that she could perform. The ALJ 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 ...