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West v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 7, 2016

SHAWN D. WEST, Plaintiff,


          Craig B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action comes before the court pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83(c) for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Shawn D. West's (“Plaintiff”) application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to the Order of Reference dated June 4, 2015, this civil action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for all purposes pursuant to D.C. Colo. LCivR 72.2 and Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Doc. 25. The court has carefully considered the Complaint (filed October 3, 2014) (Doc. 1), Defendant's Answer (filed December 15, 2014) (Doc. 8), Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed February 10, 2015) (Doc. 13), Defendant's Response Brief (filed April 8, 2015) (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Reply (filed May 6, 2015) (Doc. 18), the entire case file, the administrative record, and the applicable law. For the following reasons, the court REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further proceedings.


         In June 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits. (See Social Security Administrative Record (hereinafter “AR”) at 420-25). He alleges a disability onset date of April 1, 2008, due to atrial fibrillation. Id. at 114, 500, 505. Plaintiff was born on April 30, 1960, and was nearly 48 years old on the date of his alleged disability onset. Id. at 420. He has completed an associate degree and has previous work experience as a DES operator, a quality inspector/supervisor, and a safety coordinator. Id. at 112, 516-17.

         After his initial application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on May 18, 2010, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 109-37, 139-40. Following this hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. 141-61. In February 2012, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, vacated the decision, and remanded the case to the ALJ for further evaluation of the treating source opinions in the record. Id. at 188-92. Thereafter, the ALJ conducted two more hearings. See Id. at 51-83, 84-108.

         On December 20, 2012, the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits. Id. at 20-50. The ALJ's opinion followed the five-step process outlined in the Social Security regulations.[1] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since April 1, 2008. Id. at 25. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) cardiac disorder (atrial fibrillation and cardia arrhythmia); (2) narcissistic personality disorder; and (3) anxiety disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id. at 26-27.

         The ALJ then assessed the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except as follows. The claimant is able to frequently stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. The claimant is occasionally able to climb ladders, scaffolds, and ropes. The claimant is able to have occasional, non-intense, interactions with coworkers and supervisors. The claimant should not interact with the public.

Id. at 27.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was able to perform three positions from his past relevant work. Id. at 41. Consequently, he found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act. Id. at 42. Accordingly, Plaintiff's application for disability benefits was denied.

         Following the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff again requested review by the Appeals Council. Id. at 7-19. The Appeals Council denied his request on August 29, 2014. Id. at 1-6. The decision of the ALJ then became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Nelson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1119 (10th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Plaintiff filed this action on October 3, 2014. (Doc. 1). The court has jurisdiction to review the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         In reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court is limited to determining whether the decision adheres to applicable legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Berna v. Chater, 101 F.3d 631, 632 (10th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted); Angel v. Barnhart,329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). The court may not reverse an ALJ simply because it 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 his 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) (internal citation omitted). 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) (internal citation omitted). The 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 ...

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