United States District Court, D. Colorado
MARGO L. BECERRA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
Kathleen M Tafoya United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on review of the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff Margo L. Becerra's
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”). Jurisdiction is proper
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed her opening
brief on May 4, 2016 (Doc. No. 15 [“Opening
Br.”]). Defendant filed her Response Brief on May 25,
2016 (Doc. No. 16 [“Resp.”]), to which Plaintiff
filed a Reply on June 9, 2016. (Doc. No. 19
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
filed for SSI on February 13, 2013 alleging she had been
disabled since July 24, 2012 due to closed head injury,
comprehension problems, depression, head pain, neck pain,
upper and lower back pain, spine and nerve pain, arm and hand
pain, leg pain, chronic pain, fibromyalgia pain syndrome,
post-concussion, diffuse pain syndrome. (Doc. No. 10, Social
Security Administrative Record [“AR”] at 254-68,
153-54.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application.
(Id. at 153-72.) Following the denial, Plaintiff
requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Id. at 205-06.) A hearing was
held on September 19, 2014. (Id. at 94-151.) After
the hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Act because she could perform jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
(Id. at 26-41.) The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, id. at 1-4,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 422.210(a). Plaintiff timely
sought review by the Court.
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
Commissioner has established a five-step 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(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 (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 conclusive
and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 801 (10th Cir.
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. Sec'y of Health and Human
Servs., 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 substantial evidence.”
Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir.
1993). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as
a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from
the ALJ's ...