Submitted on the briefs:[**]
from the United States District Court for the District of
Colorado (D.C. No. 1:13-CV-01196-MSK)
Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney
General, John F. Walsh, United States Attorney, Alisa B.
Klein, Appellate Attorney, Civil Division, and Gerard
Sinzdak, Appellate Attorney, Civil Division, U.S. Department
of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Defendant-Appellant.
Michael W. Seckar, Michael W. Seckar, P.C., Pueblo, Colorado,
MATHESON, BACHARACH, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.
MORITZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Acting Commissioner appeals the district court's order
reversing her decision to deny Marla Vallejo's
application for supplemental security income benefits and
remanding the case for further administrative proceedings.
Because the district court's order rests on a
misapplication of controlling law, we reverse and remand to
the district court for further proceedings.
applied for supplemental security income benefits in April
2010, alleging she had been disabled since November 2009.
After the agency administratively denied her claim, she
received a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ).
The ALJ evaluated Vallejo's testimony and the medical
opinions of a consulting physician, a state-agency physician,
an examining psychologist, and a state-agency psychologist.
Although the record contained no medical opinions from
treating physicians, Vallejo informed the ALJ at the hearing
that her treating physician, Dr. Jerald Ratner, was preparing
a mental health opinion. The ALJ agreed to consider the
opinion if she received it before issuing her decision. One
week later, the ALJ issued a decision adverse to Vallejo.
next day, Ratner completed his opinion, titled "Residual
Functional Capacity Evaluation (Mental)." App. 206.
Ratner opined that Vallejo had bipolar disorder, and he rated
her level of impairment as "extreme" in 13 of 20
functional areas. Id. at 206-07. He further advised
that Vallejo wouldn't be able to "work at any job 8
hours per day, 5 days per week, " because her impairment
would cause her to be "off task" one hundred
percent of the time. Id. at 208.
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision and submitted Ratner's opinion with her request.
The Appeals Council denied review, stating that it
"considered" Ratner's opinion, along with other
additional evidence, but found that evidence didn't
"provide a basis for changing the [ALJ's]
decision." Id. at 51-52. The Appeals
Council's denial of Vallejo's request for review
rendered the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
then sought judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. Ruling from the bench, the district court found one
of Vallejo's five arguments dispositive: that the Appeals
Council erred "in not properly articulating its
assessment" of Ratner's opinion in denying
Vallejo's request for review. App. 215. Based on
Ratner's status as a treating physician, the court
reasoned that the Appeals Council was required to
"follow the same rules" as the ALJ by evaluating
Ratner's opinion and either assigning it controlling
weight or articulating reasons for assigning it a lesser
weight. Id. at 217. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c) (requiring agency factfinder to evaluate all
medical opinions and give controlling weight to opinions from
treating sources or explain why lesser weight is given).
neither the ALJ nor the Appeals Council expressly evaluated
Ratner's opinion, the district court reversed the
Commissioner's decision and remanded for the Appeals
Council to either (1) determine what weight, if any, to give