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Ladenburger v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 13, 2017

THERESA LADENBURGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE United States District Judge.

         On October 1, 2015, plaintiff Theresa Ladenburger (“plaintiff”) appealed the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of plaintiff's application for Social Security disability benefits. (ECF No. 1.) In her Opening Brief, plaintiff raised the following issues for judicial review: (1) did the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) commit an error of law and was its decision supported by substantial evidence;[1] (2) did the ALJ err in finding that plaintiff could do jobs in the national economy when the only jobs possible did not have significant numbers under 42 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c); (3) did the ALJ commit reversible error in failing to find that plaintiff met Medical Vocational Guidelines (a.k.a “the grid rules”) 201.14; and (4) did the ALJ fail to properly evaluate the functional evaluation of Doris Shriver. (ECF No. 19.)

         With this appeal being fully briefed (ECF Nos. 19, 21, 24), the Court makes the following findings.

         I. The ALJ's Decision

         On October 21, 2012, plaintiff filed an application seeking disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning as of November 30, 2012. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 92.) At step one of the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 17, 2012. (Id. at 94.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity; cervical spine disorder; mild degeneration of the right shoulder acromioclavicular joint; and myofasciitis of the neck and shoulders. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed in the governing regulations. (Id. at 95.)

         Before reaching step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, except no over chest level work, no climbing of ladders or scaffolds, no extended arm reaching with the dominant upper extremity, and only occasional turning and flexing of the neck. (Id. at 95-101.) In so determining, the ALJ, inter alia, gave no weight to the opinion of Doris Shriver (“Shriver”), an occupational therapist who performed a worker's compensation evaluation of plaintiff, dated August 5, 2013. (Id. at 100.) The ALJ found Shriver's opinion to have no weight because it was a non-acceptable medical source, Shriver evaluated plaintiff on one occasion, Shriver had limited interaction with plaintiff, Shriver arrived at physical limitations that exceeded limits recommended by acceptable medical sources, and Shriver opined on plaintiff's mental functioning when she was not qualified to do so. (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (Id. at 101.) At step five, the ALJ determined that, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, plaintiff could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at 102.) Specifically, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform the jobs of (1) dealer account investigator, for which there were 35, 000 jobs in the national economy and 200 jobs in Colorado, and (2) usher, for which there were 9, 000 jobs nationally and approximately 250 in Colorado. (Id.) This final determination resulted in the ALJ finding that plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 102-103.)

         II. Standard of Review

         The purpose of judicial review of an ALJ's decision is to determine whether the “decision is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). In performing this review, a court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Vigil v. Colvin, 805 F.3d 1199, 1201 (10th Cir. 2015).

         III. The Five Step Evaluation Process

         A five-step process exists for evaluating whether a person is disabled under the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920(a)(4). First, the claimant must demonstrate that he or she is not currently involved in any substantial, gainful activity. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b), 416.920(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must show a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limit his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third, if the impairment matches or is equivalent to an established listing under the governing regulations, the claimant is judged conclusively disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         If the claimant's impairment does not match or is not equivalent to an established listing, the evaluation proceeds to a fourth step, which requires that the claimant show the impairment prevents him or her from performing work he or she has performed in the past. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is able to perform his or her previous work, he or she is not disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Finally, if the claimant cannot perform his or her past work, the Commissioner must demonstrate that: (1) based upon the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience, the claimant can perform other work; and (2) the work that the claimant can perform is available in significant numbers in the national economy. Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 512 (10th Cir. 1987); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is deemed disabled. Frey, 816 F.2d at 512.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Jobs in the National ...


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