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Ward v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner's decision denying claimant Brent Allen Ward's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


         This 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.


         Mr. Ward was born on January 31, 1965. R. 37. He has at least a high school education and speaks English. Id. In the past, Mr. Ward worked as a truck driver, an automotive technician, and a cable installer/maintainer and supervisor in the United States Army. Id. However, since his alleged disability onset date of October 5, 2011, Mr. Ward has not held substantial gainful employment. R. 12.

         A. Procedural History.

         On March 20, 2015, Mr. Ward filed an application for DIB, alleging disability beginning on October 5, 2011. See R. 10. His claim was initially denied on July 9, 2015. Id. Mr. Ward subsequently requested a hearing, which was held in Pueblo, Colorado before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Matthew C. Kawalek on October 28, 2015. R. 71-120. The ALJ denied Mr. Ward's application on December 10, 2015. R. 10-39. Mr. Ward then filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, which that body rejected on March 3, 2016. R. 1-5. Mr. Ward then filed his case in this Court on April 11, 2016. ECF No. 1.

         B. The ALJ's Decision.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence according to the SSA's standard five-step process. R. 10-39. First, the ALJ found that Mr. Ward had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 5, 2011. R. 12. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Ward had the severe impairments of “degenerative joint disease of the bilateral hips, and status post right hip total hip replacement and mild degenerative joint disease; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar spine; obesity; obstructive sleep apnea; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/anxiety; and depression.” Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Ward 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. 18.

         The ALJ then found that Mr. Ward retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand and/or walk for six hours in an 8-hour workday, and can sit for six hours in an 8-hour workday. He can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He occasionally can kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He frequently can balance, stoop, and crouch. He occasionally can reach overhead bilaterally and frequently can reach in all other directions bilaterally. He should have no more than occasional exposure to hazards. He cannot perform any commercial driving. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out detailed but not complex tasks and instructions. He can have no more than frequent interaction with co-workers and supervisors, and no more than occasional interaction with the general public.

R. 21.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Ward was not capable of performing any of his past relevant work. R. 37. Nevertheless, at step five, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs in the national economy that Mr. Ward could perform, such as a dry cleaning or laundry worker, an assembler of small products, and a ...

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