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Green v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 10, 2017

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


          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner's decision denying claimant Annalea Green's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Standard of Review.

         This appeal is based upon the administrative record and the parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and determines whether it contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is “overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.” Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence requires “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). In addition, reversal may be appropriate if the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal standard or fails to demonstrate that the correct legal standards have been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1019.

         II. Background.

         Ms. Green was born in 1984 and is now 32 years old. See R. 119. She did not complete high school. R. 138. Instead, she worked full-time at a fast food restaurant as a teenager. See Id. She stayed in this line of work for more than a decade until November 2009. R. 139.

         Two years before leaving her job, Ms. Green was diagnosed with lupus. R. 217. She began experiencing swelling and pain in her joints indicative of inflammatory arthritis. R. 197- 98. She sought treatment four times from November 2008 to April 2010, when most of her symptoms spontaneously subsided. R. 191-99, 217. Ms. Green subsequently became pregnant and gave birth in May 2011. R. 264. A few months later, however, many of her symptoms returned. R. 217. This time she also suffered a diminished ability to close her hands, shortness of breath, and chest pain. R. 217-18, 220. Ms. Green resumed a treatment regimen and her symptoms generally improved, though she admitted taking her medications irregularly and continuing to smoke most of a pack of cigarettes every day. R. 240, 244, 247-48, 251-52.

         In 2013 Ms. Green tried working at a convenience store. R. 149. Unfortunately, she was fired after two months because she called out of work too many times in response to her supervisor scheduling her for extra shifts. R. 154. These long hours required significant lifting and standing without scheduled breaks, aggravating Ms. Green's symptoms. R. 32, 154.

         A. Procedural History.

         In October 2012 Ms. Green applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2009. R. 12, 146, 165. The claim was initially denied on August 26, 2013. R. 49-62. Ms. Green requested a hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Richard J. Maddigan on August 18, 2014. R. 28. The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on August 27, 2014. R. 11. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Green's request for review on January 12, 2016, rendering the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. R. 1. Ms. Green filed a timely appeal in this Court.

         B. The ALJ's Decision.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence according to the SSA's standard five-step process. R. 14-24. First, he found that Ms. Green had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of November 1, 2009. R. 16. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Green had the severe impairments of systemic lupus erythematosus, polyarticular inflammatory arthritis, obesity, interstitial lung disease, and obstructive lung disease. R. 16. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Green did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 17.

         The ALJ then found that Ms. Green retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to sit, stand, and walk without limitation throughout an eight-hour workday, though she is limited to lifting 30 to 40 pounds and grasping, handling, feeling, reaching, pushing, and pulling only occasionally. R. 18. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Green is unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 22. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Green could perform. R. 23. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Green was not disabled. R. 24.

         III. ...

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