United States District Court, D. Colorado
Brooke Jackson United States District Judge
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
Standard of Review.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
The ALJ's Decision.
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.
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.