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Petti v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 20, 2016

DWAN R. PETTI, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE AND REMANDING TO COMMISSIONER

WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This Social Security benefits appeal is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Dwan R. Petti (“Plaintiff”) challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant”), denying her application for disability insurance benefits. After a hearing, the denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who ruled that Plaintiff 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 Plaintiff’s application for disability benefits is vacated and this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on July 15, 1969, and was 42 years old on the alleged disability onset date of December 20, 2011.[1] (Administrative Record (“R.”) (ECF No. 11) at 71.) Plaintiff graduated from high school, and previously worked as an accounting clerk and office manager. (R. at 41, 198.)

Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on January 17, 2012. (R. at 22.) Plaintiff alleged that she is disabled due to the following conditions: bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, fatigue, and partial liver failure. (R. at 26, 71.) Her application was initially denied on May 29, 2012. (R. at 22.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before ALJ Kathryn D. Burgchardt. (R. at 37, 88.) On May 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Commissioner’s five-step sequential evaluation process.[2]

At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of December 20, 2011, through her date last insured of March 31, 2012.[3] (R. at 24.)

At step two, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff suffered from “the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and liver disease.” (Id.) The ALJ did not find that any other claimed condition was a severe impairment. (See id.)

At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s impairments, while severe, did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in the Social Security regulations. (R. at 25.) In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had “moderate difficulties” with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace. (Id.) However, the ALJ found that the “paragraph B” criteria were not satisfied because Plaintiff’s mental impairments did not cause at least two “marked” limitations or one “marked” limitation and “repeated” episodes of decompensation. (Id.)

Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (R. at 26-30.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: [Plaintiff] required work which is unskilled, with a svp skill level of 1-2, not in close proximity to co-workers or supervisors (meaning that she could not function as a member of a team), and minimal to no direct contact with the public.

(R. at 26.) Then, at step four, the ALJ concluded that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (R. at 30.)

At step five, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, other jobs existed in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed with the RFC assessed. (R. at 31.) Those jobs included production assembly worker, electronics worker, and dry cleaner. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act and was therefore not entitled to benefits. (R. at 32.)

Plaintiff appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied review. (R. at 9.) Accordingly, the ALJ’s May 10, 2013 decision is the final administrative action for purposes of review. Plaintiff then filed this ...


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