United States District Court, D. Colorado
ELLA M. FLAKES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ, District Judge.
This is a Social Security benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Ella M. Flakes ("Flakes") challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance benefits. The denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who ruled that Flakes was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. This appeal followed.
For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision denying Flakes's application for supplemental security income benefits and disability benefits is VACATED and this case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this order.
Flakes was born in September 1982 and was 26 years old on the alleged disability onset date of June 6, 2009. (Administrative Record ("R.") (ECF No. 11) at 105.) Flakes graduated from high school and has previously worked as a dining room attendant, fast food cook, and sales clerk. (R. at 39-40.)
Flakes applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on May 29, 2012, with a protective filing date of May 7, 2012. (R. at 11, 105, 110.) Flakes claimed that she is disabled due to the following conditions: back and neck pain, anxiety, blood clots in her legs, asthma, knee pain, depressive disorder, obesity, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (R. at 13, 136.) Her application was denied on September 7, 2012. (R. at 63, 66.) Flakes requested and received a hearing in front of an ALJ, E. William Shaffer. (R. at 69.) On June 4, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process.
At step one, the ALJ found that Flakes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 6, 2009, the alleged disability onset date. (R. at 13.)
At step two, the ALJ found that Flakes suffered from "the following severe impairments: asthma, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, obesity, and [GERD]." (Id. ) The ALJ did not find that any other claimed condition was a severe impairment. (R. at 13-14.)
At step three, the ALJ found that Flakes's impairments, while severe, did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in the Social Security regulations. (R. at 14.)
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Flakes's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ concluded that Flakes has the RFC "to perform a range of light work.... [Flakes] is further limited to avoiding concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, and gases; avoid[ing] concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and unprotected major manufacturing machinery; and limited to unskilled work." (R. at 15.) Then, at step four, the ALJ concluded that Flakes is unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (R. at 17.)
At step five, the ALJ found that other jobs exist in the national economy that Flakes can perform, including fast food worker, survey worker, and marker ( i.e., one who marks merchandise, either to identify the object itself or to specify its price). (R. at 18-19, 43.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Flakes was not entitled to Social Security benefits. (R. at 19.)
Flakes appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council (R. at 7), which denied review (R. at 1). Flakes then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's June 4, 2013 decision. (ECF No. 1.)
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. ...