United States District Court, D. Colorado
MANUEL B. MENDIOLA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Brooke Jackson United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security
Administration (SSA) Commissioner's decision denying
claimant Manuel B. Mendiola's application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is
proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons
explained below, the Court reverses and remands 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 1019.
Mendiola is 51 years old. See R. 230. He has a high
school education and has worked a variety of jobs in his
life, including as a nurse's aide, painter, cashier, lime
kiln operator, cleanup worker, cook, and, most recently,
bartender. R. 280, 295-96.
August 2008 Mr. Mendiola suffered a heart attack and had
quintuple bypass surgery. R. 379, 394. He has experienced
intermittent chest pain and related symptoms since the
surgery. See, e.g., R. 429, 616, 657, 1155. In
addition, he has diabetes and endures occasional abdominal
pain, low back pain, and difficulty breathing. See,
e.g., R. 440, 690, 1116, 1170.
Mendiola is also an alcoholic. R. 396. On average he
binge-drinks a twelve-pack of beer and a pint of liquor once
or twice a week. R. 44-45. He appears to use alcohol to treat
his chronic mild depression. R. 396-97. Unfortunately, Mr.
Mendiola's alcohol use has aggravated many of his other
health problems. He has not complied with the medication
regimen for his heart condition because he has been spending
his copay money on alcohol. See R. 431, 469, 657,
1154-55, 1157-59. His alcohol use exacerbates his diabetes.
R. 397. And his high alcohol intake is a risk factor for his
abdominal issues. R. 1146.
September 21, 2012 Mr. Mendiola applied for supplemental
security income benefits. R. 276. On November 1, 2012 he
applied for disability insurance benefits. R. 230. Both
claims alleged disability beginning August 19, 2011. R. 234,
241. The claims were initially denied on April 8, 2013. R.
140. Mr. Mendiola requested reconsideration and the claims
were again denied on June 11, 2013. R. 155-56. Mr. Mendiola
then requested a hearing, which was held in front of
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stanley R. Hogg on August 13,
2014. R. 30. At the hearing Mr. Mendiola asked to amend his
alleged onset date to be five days later than originally
averred, moving that date to August 24, 2011. R. 35. The ALJ
issued a decision denying benefits on October 23, 2014. R.
11. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Mendiola's request for
review on February 10, 2016, rendering the ALJ's
determination the final decision of the Commissioner for
purposes of judicial review. R. 1. Mr. Mendiola filed a
timely appeal in this Court. ECF No. 1.
The ALJ's Decision.
issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence
according to the SSA's standard five-step process. R.
11-22. First, he found that Mr. Mendiola had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of
August 24, 2011. R. 13. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr.
Mendiola had the severe impairments of coronary artery
disease, hypertension, pancreatitis, asthma, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and
degenerative disc disease. R. 14. The ALJ found Mr.
Mendiola's mental impairments of depression and alcohol
abuse to be nonsevere. Id. At step three, the ALJ
concluded that Mr. Mendiola 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.
then found that Mr. Mendiola retained the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform unskilled and low semi-skilled
light work provided he is only occasionally required to climb
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl and he avoids
environments that are very hot, very cold, or involve
continuous exposure to dust, smoke, fumes, pollutants, or
chemicals. R. 16. The ALJ determined that Mr. Mendiola is
capable of performing his past relevant work at step four. R.
22. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Mendiola was not