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Martinez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 19, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint [Docket No. 1] filed by plaintiff Jeanette Martinez on March 25, 2014. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI 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).[1]


On October 13, 2011, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act. R. at 20. On May 1, 2012, plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. Id. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since February 25, 2010. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 9, 2012.


The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, major depression, and anxiety disorder. Id. at 22.

The ALJ concluded that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations’ listed impairments. Id. at 23. She ruled that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that the claimant: can occasionally lift up to 20 pounds and frequently up to 10 pounds; can stand and/or walk up to four hours, with normal breaks; can sit up to six hours, with normal breaks; cannot climb ladders; can frequently climb stairs and stoop; can occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl; has no limitations on balancing, and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. In addition, the claimant can understand and remember simple instructions, which are typical of unskilled work. The claimant can sustain concentration, persistence and pace, as long as there is no requirement to interact with the general public. She can interact appropriately with co-workers and supervisors, and, in this environment, can plan, set simple goals, travel, and recognize and avoid work hazards.

Id. at 25. Based upon this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, id. at 29, but that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” Id. at 30. On November 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 31. On February 27, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of this denial. Id. at 1. Thus, 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 ...

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