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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 15, 2016

KAREN JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ'S DECISION DENYING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.

This disability claim was previously before the Court in 2013. On remand, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding that Plaintiff Karen Johnson ("Plaintiff") was not disabled. Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's decision to deny her application for social security disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits in April of 2009. (AR 733.)[1] On May 25, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from January 1, 2006, which was the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2009, which was the last date on which Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of section 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (AR 734.) On December 19, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and an appeal to this Court followed. (AR 736.) On January 15, 2013, this Court reversed the May 25, 2011 decision of the ALJ and remanded the matter to Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, for further proceedings. (AR 757.) Specifically, the Court ordered that on remand the ALJ shall: (1) address the medical evidence in the record relating to Plaintiff's non-severe impairments; (2) re-determine Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and, potentially, her credibility; and (3) proceed with the sequential analysis at step four and, if necessary, step five. ( Id. )

Upon remand, the Appeals Council noted that Plaintiff filed a subsequent claim for Title II benefits and directed the ALJ to associate this new claim with the remanded claim and issue a new decision. (AR 727.) On August 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a ruling denying benefits. (AR 697.) In applying the five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920 to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ determined that:

1. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2006, through her date last insured of December 31, 2009. [Step 1]
2. Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis; deep vein thrombosis; obesity; and fibromyalgia. [Step 2]
3. Through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Step 3]
4. Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except with the limits listed in the prior decision. [Step 4]
5. Through the date last insured, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. [Step 5]

Plaintiff did not file written exceptions to the Appeals Council nor did the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision on its own; thus, the ALJ's decision became the final administrative decision for purposes of judicial review. ( See AR 687.) On November 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed her appeal of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. # 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review of the ALJ's determination is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner-through the ALJ-applied the correct legal standards. 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. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Wall, 561 F.3d at 1084. In reviewing the record and the arguments of counsel, the Court does not reexamine the issues de novo, Sisco v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir. 1993), nor does it re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th Cir. 2006). Thus, even when some evidence may have supported contrary findings, the Court "may not displace the agency's choice between two fairly ...


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