United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
E. BLACKBURN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1],
filed October 28, 2015, seeking review of the
Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claims
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have
jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter has been fully
briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. I affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
alleges that he is disabled as a result of a back disorder
and an affective disorder. After his applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on
April 21, 2014. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was
48 years old. He has a high school education and past
relevant work experience as a laborer. He has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 30, 2010, his
alleged date of onset.
found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled
to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security
income benefits. Although the medical evidence established
plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the judge found
the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any
impairment listed in the social security regulations. The ALJ
determined plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to
perform simple, unskilled work at all exertional levels with
certain postural and manipulative restrictions which required
no frequent or prolonged contact with co-workers,
supervisors, or the public. Although this conclusion
precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ found
there were other jobs existing in substantial numbers in the
national and local economies he could perform. He therefore
found plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential
evaluation. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals
Council. The Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this
action in federal court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act only if his physical and/or mental impairments preclude
him from performing both his previous work and any other
“substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “When a
claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social
Security [Act] requires the [Commissioner] to consider the
combined effects of the impairments in making a disability
determination.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d
1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(C)). However, the mere existence of a severe
impairment or combination of impairments does not require a
finding that an individual is disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. To be disabling, the claimant's
condition must be so functionally limiting as to preclude any
substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive
months. See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338
(10th Cir. 1995).
Commissioner has established a quinquepartite sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment
is “severe.” A “severe impairment”
must significantly limit the claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or
equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix
1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a
listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant can perform her past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional
capacity to perform her past work, the ALJ must decide
whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and
substantial work in the economy. This determination is made
on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also
Williams v. Bowen 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th
Cir. 1988). The claimant has the initial burden of
establishing a disability in the first four steps of this
analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5,
107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). The burden
then shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy.
Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not
disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive
and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 801
(10th Cir. 1991).
of the Commissioner's disability decision is limited to
determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir.
1992); Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196
(10th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is evidence
a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Brown, 912 F.2d at 1196. It requires
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of the
evidence. Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556
(D. Colo. 1992). “Evidence 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). Further,
“if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test,
there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of