United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
E. Blackburn, United States District Judge
matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1],
filed November 5, 2015, seeking review of the
Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for
disability insurance benefits under Title II 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 he is disabled as a result of degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, obstructive pulmonary disease,
major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, hypertension,
headaches, cervical spondylosis, renal insufficiency,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, and obesity. After his
application for disability insurance benefits was denied,
plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge. Following that hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision, but the Appeals Council remanded for further
development of the record. Thus, a second hearing was held on
January 30, 2015. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was
58 years old. He has a high school education with additional
vocational training and past relevant work experience as a
journeyman electrician and as a meatcutter. He has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 23,
2011, his alleged date of onset.
found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled
to disability insurance benefits. Although the evidence
established plaintiff suffered from several severe
impairments, the judge concluded the severity of those
impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in
the social security regulations. Other alleged impairments -
including, relevantly, cervical spine disease, headaches, and
plaintiff's alleged mental impairments - were found to be
non-severe. The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform a range of light work with
certain postural and environmental restrictions. 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.
She 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 his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional
capacity to perform his 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(b)-(f). See also Williams v.
Bowen844 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 that 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 ...