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Serrano v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 7, 2016

JOYCE SERRANO, 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 Joyce Serrano’s complaint [Docket No. 1] filed on September 22, 2014. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the “Commissioner”) denying plaintiff’s claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83c. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner’s final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

On August 19, 2010, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act. R. at 15. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled beginning March 10, 2010. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 19, 2012. Id. On December 26, 2012, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 25. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease, type II diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and obesity. Id. at 17. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the regulations’ listed impairments, id. at 19, and found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with additional limitations. More specifically, [plaintiff] is capable of lifting or carrying up to 10 pounds frequently, lifting or carrying 10 pounds occasionally, standing or walking for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] is capable of twisting, climbing, balancing, stooping, crawling, crouching, and kneeling for up to 1/3 of the day. [Plaintiff] is precluded from reaching above shoulder level and she must avoid unprotected heights and concentrated exposure to moving machinery.

Id. at 19. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff “is capable of performing past relevant work as a customer service representative, ” which “does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [plaintiff’s RFC.]” Id. at 24.

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s denial. R. at 1. Consequently, 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 lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (2006). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, ...


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