United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER
B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge.
Judge Craig B. Shaffer 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 Verda Louise
Smith's (“Plaintiff”) application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to
the Order of Reference dated March 16, 2016, this civil
action was referred to the Magistrate Judge “for all
purposes” pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and
D.C.Colo.LCivR 72.2(e). See Doc. 23. The court has
carefully considered the Complaint (filed September 16, 2015)
(Doc. 1), Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed January 28,
2016) (Doc. 18), Defendant's Response Brief (filed
February 25, 2016) (Doc. 19), Plaintiff's Reply (filed
March 15, 2016) (Doc. 22), the entire case file, the
administrative record, and applicable case law. For the
following reasons, the court REMANDS the Commissioner's
decision for further proceedings.
November 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
benefits, alleging a disability onset date of March 19, 2011.
(See Social Security Administrative Record
(hereinafter “AR”) at 246-52, 253-58). Plaintiff
alleges she became disabled due to osteoarthritis, lupus,
fibromyalgia, bursitis, and depression. Id. at 297.
Her medical records document complaints of - among other
things - chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, depression, chest
pain, wheezing, rashes, GERD, and abdominal cramps. Plaintiff
was born on October 30, 1958, and was 52 years old on the
date of her alleged disability onset. Id. at 51,
292. She obtained her GED and has past work experience in
customer service. Id. at 298. After her initial
application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which
was held on June 12, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). See id. at 57-113, 164-66,
September 12, 2014, the ALJ issued her decision denying
benefits. Id. at 20-50. The ALJ's opinion
followed the five-step process outlined in the Social
Security regulations. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since March
19, 2011. Id. at 36. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's severe impairments included only her bipolar
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 39-41.
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 a range of medium work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). The claimant
can lift, carry, push, and pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25
pounds frequently. She can stand for six hours in an
eight-hour workday, and she can walk for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. The claimant's ability to sit is
unlimited. The claimant can frequently climb ramps and
stairs. She can tolerate frequent exposure to environmental
irritants, dusts, and fumes. The claimant can have frequent
interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
Id. at 41.
four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was able to perform
past relevant work as an income tax preparer. Id. at
50. The ALJ also found, alternatively, that Plaintiff could
perform work as a bundle clerk (1, 100 Colorado; 103, 000
National), a grocery bagger (1, 700 Colorado; 168, 000
National), and a dishwasher (5, 900 Colorado; 286, 000
National). Id. at 51. Consequently, she found that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the
Social Security Act. Id. at 52. Accordingly,
Plaintiff's application for disability benefits was
the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. Id. at 14-15. The Appeals Council
denied her request on August 3, 2015. Id. at 1-7.
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).
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court is
limited to determining whether the decision adheres to
applicable legal standards, and whether it 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
raises numerous arguments on appeal. One of those arguments -
the ALJ erred in her evaluation of Plaintiff's
fibromyalgia - 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 because they
may be affected by the [administrative law judge's]
treatment of the case on remand.”); see also Brown
v. Barnhart, 182 F. App'x 771, 772 (10th Cir. 2006)
(failure to find plaintiff's fibromyalgia severe at step
two impacted the subsequent steps in the ALJ's analysis);
Crider v. Barnhart, ...