United States District Court, D. Colorado
DANAE J. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge.
action comes before the court pursuant to Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381, et seq., for review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying
Danae Williams' application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to the Order of
Reference dated June 12, 2015, this civil action was referred
to the Magistrate Judge for all purposes. See Doc.
24. The court has carefully considered the Complaint (filed
October 10, 2014) [Doc. 1], Defendant's Answer (filed
February 5, 2015) [Doc. 10], Plaintiff's Opening Brief
(filed April 1, 2015) [Doc. 14], Defendant's Response
Brief (filed May 20, 2015) [Doc. 18], Plaintiff's Reply
Brief (filed May 28, 2015) [Doc. 19], the entire case file,
the administrative record, and the applicable law. For the
following reasons, the court reverses and remands the
2011, Danae Williams applied for SSI, alleging a disability
onset date of July 1, 2009. Doc. 11-3 at 2. Ms. Williams
alleged that her ability to work was limited by the following
conditions: “herniated discs, ” “disc
degeneration, ” “bulging discs, ”
“bad hips, ” “early osteosrthritis [sic],
” and “muscle spasms.” Id. at 3.
Claimant was born on November 19, 1986, and she was 22 years
old on the onset date of her alleged disability. Id.
She completed the 12thgrade and has previous work
experience as a potato sorter and fast food worker.
Id. at 9; Doc. 11-2 at 31-32. After the denial of
Ms. Williams' initial application, she requested a
hearing. Doc. 11-2 at 11. The presiding Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), Richard J. Maddigan, continued the
case on November 5, 2012, in order to obtain more substantive
evidence and held a video hearing on March 19, 2013.
March 25, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision that
denied benefits to Ms. Williams. Id. at 8. The
ALJ's Decision followed the five-step process outlined in
the Social Security regulations. At step one, the ALJ found
that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful
employment since June 29, 2011. Id. at 13. At step
two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe
impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease; and (2) obesity.
Id. Claimant's impairments related to her knees
and wrists, as well as her depression, were found to be
non-severe. Id. at 13. At step three, the ALJ found
that Ms. Gunn did not have an impairment that met or
medically equaled a listed impairment. Id.
found Ms. Gunn has 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 sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 416.967(a) except the claimant can occasionally lift
10 pounds; she can sit up to two hours in an eight hour
workday; she can stand and walk up to six hours in an eight
hour workday; she can frequently perform overhead reaching
and continuous reaching otherwise; there are no limitations
on handling, fingering, feeling, pushing and pulling; she can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crawl; the claimant can
occasionally tolerate heights and extreme cold; she can
rarely bend, squat, or crouch. She requires a break every 15
to 30 minutes to alternate positions to mitigate pain.
Id. at 13-14. The ALJ concluded that although
Claimant's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms, the
evidence did not support a finding that she was as limited as
she claimed. Id. at 14. The ALJ provided four
reasons for finding that the allegations lacked sufficient
credibility to support a finding of disability: (1)
“the claimant went ten years without treatment for her
cervical spine;” (2) “[s]he provided mixed
information about the onset of her back and hip pain to her
different providers;” (3) “there is little
objective evidence to support the severity of her
limitations;” and (4) “[i]n addition to her
chronic narcotic use, the claimant appears to be prone to
symptom magnification.” Id. at 14-15.
four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Williams is unable to
perform any of her past relevant work as a potato sorter or a
fast food worker “due to the requirement of frequent
positional changes to mitigate back pain.” Id.
at 17. The ALJ then found at step five that Claimant is able
to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, namely, parking lot attendant (light work),
information clerk (light work), store facility rental clerk
(light work), call out operator (sedentary work),
telequotations clerk (sedentary work), and surveillance
system monitor (sedentary work). Id. at 18. In doing
so, the ALJ relied on the vocational expert's (VE)
testimony, which he determined to be consistent with the
information contained in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”). Id. Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Claimant was not disabled under the Act.
the ALJ's decision, Ms. Williams requested review by the
Appeals Council. Id. at 2. The Appeals Council
denied her request on September 8, 2014. Id. As a
result, the ALJ's Decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481; Nelson v.
Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1119 (10th Cir. 1993) (citation
omitted). On October 10, 2014, Ms. Williams properly filed
this civil action in the United States District Court for the
District of Colorado. Doc. 1; see 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of
the [Commissioner] made after a hearing to which [s]he was a
party … may obtain a review of such decision by a
civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to
[her] of notice of such decision ….”).
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 her decision.
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) (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) (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 (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) (citation omitted).
appeal, Ms. Williams contends that the ALJ erred by: (1)
failing to obtain an reasonable explanation from the VE
regarding a discrepancy between his testimony and the job
descriptions found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”); (2) basing disability decision on
availability of six jobs identified by the VE that are
precluded by the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) limitations; (3) failing to apply the
exact limitations found in the opinion of the consulting
examining physician, Dr. Easchief; (4) rejecting the opinion
of Dr. Rendler, her treating physician, without stating valid
reasons; and (5) failing to address the opinion of Dr.
Valette on the existence of mental impairments and associated
limitations. Doc. 14 at 4. Because we conclude the ALJ did
not follow the correct legal standards in considering the
VE's testimony, we ...