United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. BABCOCK, JUDGE
Karen Bailey appeals the final decision of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“SSA”) denying
her application for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et
seq. I have considered the parties' briefs (ECF Nos.
13-15) and the administrative record (ECF No. 10)
(“AR”). Oral argument would not materially assist
me in determining this appeal.
Bailey argues the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) improperly determined her work as an oil
painter constituted “past relevant work” under
the regulations and therefore wrongly determined she was not
disabled. I agree that the ALJ erred when he determined Ms.
Bailey had worked long enough as a painter for it to qualify
as past relevant work. Accordingly, I
REVERSE SSA's decision and
REMAND for proceedings consistent with this
Bailey filed her claim for disability and disability
insurance benefits with SSA in September 2013, alleging
disability beginning January 2010. AR 150-156. Ms. Bailey
later amended the onset date to June 1, 2012. AR 54. After
SSA initially denied her claim, AR 76-87, Ms. Bailey
requested a hearing, AR 94-95. The hearing took place on
August 26, 2014, before an ALJ. AR 51-75. On December 5,
2014, the ALJ denied Ms. Bailey's claim, concluding that
Ms. Bailey was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. AR 35-50. Ms. Bailey asked SSA's Appeals
Council to review the ALJ's decision. AR 32-33. On May 4,
2016, the Appeals Council denied review, AR 17-19, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of SSA, see Doyal
v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003). On July
7, 2016, Ms. Bailey timely filed this appeal. (ECF No. 1.) I
have jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
SSA's Five-Step Process for Determining Whether a
Claimant Is “Disabled”
claimant is “disabled” under Title II of the
Social Security Act if she is unable to “engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). SSA has
established a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled and thus entitled
to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one, SSA asks whether the claimant is presently engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” If she is,
benefits are denied and the inquiry stops. §
404.1520(b). At step two, SSA asks whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment”-that is, an impairment or
combination of impairments that “significantly limits
[her] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” § 404.1520(c). If she does not,
benefits are denied and the inquiry stops. If she does, SSA
moves on to step three, where it determines whether the
claimant's impairment(s) “meet or equal” one
of the “listed impairments”-impairments so severe
that SSA has determined that a claimant who has them is
conclusively disabled without regard to the claimant's
age, education, or work experience. § 404.1520(d). If
not, SSA goes to step four. At step four, SSA determines the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”)-that is, what she is still able to do
despite her impairments, and asks whether the claimant can do
any of her “past relevant work” given that RFC.
§ 404.1520(e). If not, SSA goes to the fifth and final
step, where it has the burden of showing that the
claimant's RFC allows her to do other work in the
national economy in view of her age, education, and work
experience. § 404.1520(g). At this step, SSA's
“grid rules” may mandate a finding of disabled or
not disabled without further analysis based on the
claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2. In contrast with step five, the
claimant has “the burden of establishing a prima facie
case of disability at steps one through four.”
Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760.
Standard for Reviewing SSA's Decision
review is limited to determining whether SSA applied the
correct legal standards and whether its decision is supported
by substantial evidence in the record. Williamson v.
Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1097, 1098 (10th Cir. 2003);
White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 905 (10th Cir.
2001); Qualls v. Apfel, 206 F.3d 1368, 1371 (10th
Cir. 2000). With regard to the law, reversal may be
appropriate when SSA either applies an incorrect legal
standard or fails to demonstrate reliance on the correct
legal standards. See Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d
1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). With regard to the evidence, I
must “determine whether the findings of fact . . . are
based upon substantial evidence, and inferences reasonably
drawn therefrom. If they are so supported, they are
conclusive upon the reviewing court and may not be
disturbed.” Trujillo v. Richardson, 429 F.2d
1149, 1150 (10th Cir. 1970). “Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is
such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support
the conclusion.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d
1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The record must
demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, but
an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence.
Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir.
1996). I may not reweigh the evidence or substitute my
judgment for that of the ALJ. Casias v. Secretary of
Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir.
The ALJ's Decision
followed the five-step analysis outlined above. At step one,
the ALJ found that Ms. Bailey had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date and met the
insured requirements of the Social Security Act through June
30, 2013. AR 40. At step two, the ALJ found Ms. Bailey had
one severe impairment: lumbar degenerative disc
disease. AR 41. At step three, the ALJ concluded
that during the relevant period, Ms. Bailey's impairments
did not meet or equal any of the “listed
impairments” that mandate a conclusive finding of
disability under the social security regulations. AR 41-42.
At step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Bailey had the following
[T]he claimant had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
occasionally stoop ...