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Weeks v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Colorado

March 27, 2015

RICKY WEEKS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Ricky Weeks’ complaint [Docket No. 1] filed on May 10, 2013. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the “Commissioner”) denying plaintiff’s claim for supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83c.[1] The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner’s final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

On May 21, 2008, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act. R. at 10. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since March 1, 2008, id., but later amended that onset date to October 1, 2008. Id. at 21. After an initial administrative denial of his claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 25, 2010. Id. at 10. On May 17, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 17. On January 12, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s denial. R. at 1. Plaintiff then brought suit in federal court. See Case No. 12-cv-00644-JLK. On August 29, 2012, the Commissioner moved to remand the case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Id. (Docket No. 16). The court granted the Commissioner’s motion. Id. (Docket No. 17).

On February 24, 2012, plaintiff filed a second application for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act. R. at 319. On July 31, 2012, the State Agency issued a favorable decision finding that plaintiff was disabled beginning November 1, 2011. Id. On November 16, 2012, the Appeals Council upheld the favorable determination as of November 1, 2011, but vacated the ALJ’s May 17, 2010 order with instructions to review the period prior to November 1, 2011. Id. at 319-321.

On March 8, 2013, plaintiff appeared at a second hearing before the ALJ. R. at 248. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, left hip osteoarthritis, and Langer Giedion syndrome. Id. at 251. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations’ listed impairments, id. at 251-52, 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) with the following additional limitations: the claimant would require the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing as needed throughout the workday; the claimant could occasionally bend, squat, and/or kneel; he could never climb ladders or scaffolds; he could occasionally operate foot or leg controls; he could not be exposed to unprotected heights.

Id. at 252. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy” that plaintiff could have performed. Id. at 256. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984(a) and 416.1484, the ALJ’s decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. ANALYSIS

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 (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 ...

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