United States District Court, D. Colorado
ELIZABETH W. O'DELL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. SHAFFER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action comes before the court pursuant to Title II of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-33, for review of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying Elizabeth W.
O'Dell's (“Plaintiff”) application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant
to the Order reassigning the case, dated December 30, 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. 20. The court has
carefully considered the Complaint (filed March 27, 2015)
(Doc. 1), Defendant's Answer (filed September 8, 2015)
(Doc. 10), Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed November 12,
2015) (Doc. 16), Defendant's Response Brief (filed
December 14, 2015) (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Reply Brief
(filed December 29, 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.
April 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
benefits and alleged that she became disabled in September
2010. (See Social Security Administrative Record
(hereinafter “AR”) at 11, 112-18). Plaintiff
alleged that her ability to work was limited by diabetes,
carpal tunnel, peripheral artery disease, leg problems, and
sleep apnea. See id. at 143. Plaintiff was born on
September 10, 1958, and was 52 years old at the time of her
alleged disability onset. Id. at 31, 112. She is a
high school graduate and has received training as a real
estate agent. Id. at 144. She has past work
experience as a real estate agent, gas station cashier, truck
driver, and nursing home cook. Id. After her initial
application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which
was held on August 23, 2013, before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). See id. at 27-55,
October 30, 2013, the ALJ issued his decision denying
benefits. Id. at 8-26. The ALJ's opinion
followed the five-step process outlined in the Social
Security regulations. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was not engaged in substantial gainful employment from
September 11, 2010, through March 31, 2013. Id. at
13. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: (1) diabetes mellitus; and (2)
peripheral vascular disease. Id. At step three, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that met
or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id. at
then assessed the following residual functional capacity
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) except she could frequently balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch and crawl; occasionally climb ramps and stairs;
and never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant
could perform frequent handling bilaterally and frequent
Id. at 16.
four, the ALJ concluded that through the date last insured,
Plaintiff was able to perform three positions from her past
relevant work. Id. at 21. Consequently, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff did not meet the definition of
“disabled” for purposes of the Social Security
Act. Id. at 22. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
application for DIB was denied.
the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. Id. at 7. The Appeals Council
denied her request on January 22, 2015. 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 March 27, 2015. Doc.
1. The court has jurisdiction to review the final decision of
the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 the substantiality test has
been met.” Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070
(internal citation omitted). 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) (internal citation omitted).
raises numerous arguments on appeal. One of those arguments -
the ALJ erred in his evaluation of a treating source opinion
- is sufficient on its own to warrant reversal. Therefore,
the court declines to address the others as they may be
impacted on remand. See Watkins v. Barnhart, 350
F.3d 1297, 1299 (10th Cir. 2003) (“We will not reach
the remaining issues raised by appellant ...