United States District Court, D. Colorado
RODNEY P. SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PHILIP A. BRIMMER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Rodney P. Smith’s complaint [Docket No. 1], filed on October 3, 2013. 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).
On November 3, 2010, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Act. R. at 21. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled beginning August 15, 2008, id., but later changed his alleged onset date to April 19, 2009. Id. at 40. After an initial administrative denial of his claim, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 25, 2012. Id. at 21. On July 5, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 32.
The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of cardiac arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, remote history of mitral valve prolapse, status post mitral valve reconstruction/replacement, and anxiety disorder. Id. at 23. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations’ listed impairments, id. at 23-25, and ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with the following specific restrictions and requirements: [plaintiff] is not required to stoop, balance, crouch, or kneel more than occasionally; [plaintiff] is not required to climb or crawl; [plaintiff] is not required to lift more than five pounds occasionally and two and a half pounds frequently; [plaintiff] is not required to walk for more than 20 minutes at one time without the opportunity to sit; [plaintiff] is not required to work above shoulder level with the left (non-dominant) upper extremity; [plaintiff] is not required to work at unguarded heights or near unguarded hazardous mechanical equipment; [plaintiff] is not required to do more than the lower-end of detailed instructions; [plaintiff] is not required to have more than superficial interaction with the public; [plaintiff] is not required to be exposed to extreme temperatures and high humidity; [plaintiff] is not required to work near gas flames; [plaintiff] is not required to work with power tools; and [plaintiff] is not required to work near any equipment creating magnetic fields.
Id. at 25. In formulating this RFC, the ALJ relied in part on the testimony of Dr. H.C. Alexander, a medical expert who testified at the hearing. See Id. at 23, 28. 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 the claimant can perform.” R. at 31.
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of this denial. R. at 1. Consequently, the ALJ’s decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.
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 ...