United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge
action comes before the court pursuant to Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c) for review of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner” or “Defendant”)'s
final decision denying Rose Ann Miller's
(“Plaintiff”)application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Plaintiff filed the Complaint on June 9,
2016, and the case was assigned to District Judge Wiley Y.
Daniel. Doc. 1. On August 18, 2016, the parties consented to
magistrate jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626.
Doc. 14. On October 21, 2016, the case was reassigned to this
Magistrate Judge. Doc. 21. The court has carefully considered
the Complaint, Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed September
16, 2016) (Doc. 16), Defendant's Response Brief (filed
October 5, 2016) (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Reply (filed
October 19, 2016) (Doc. 20), the entire case file, the Social
Security administrative record (“AR, ” doc. 12),
and the applicable law. Oral argument would not assist the
court. For the following reasons, the court affirms the
January 2013, Plaintiff filed an application under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act for DIB and SSI. From
October 2000 to January 2013, Plaintiff worked as a global
provisioning manager in the telecom industry. AR at 256. She
claimed disability based on several conditions. Id.
at 255. After the application was initially denied, Plaintiff
requested a hearing by an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). The case was assigned to ALJ Debra
Boudreau, who held an evidentiary hearing on February 18,
2015. Id. at 92-118. Plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified at the hearing. A vocational expert
(“VE”), Nora W. Dunne, also testified at the
to the Commissioner's five-step process described further
below, the ALJ found among other things that Plaintiff had a
severe impairment (“degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar and cervical spine”) but that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to still
perform her former work. AR at 82-86 (decision of March 20,
2015). The ALJ thus found Plaintiff was not disabled.
Id. at 86. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals
Council, and the Appeals Council denied her appeal on April
28, 2016. Id. at 1-7. The decision of the ALJ then
became the final decision of the Commissioner. See,
e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §
416.1481. Plaintiff timely filed this action. Doc. 1. As the
“district court of the United States for the judicial
district in which the plaintiff resides, ” this court
has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Commissioner's regulations define a five-step process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled:
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 her 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.
Wilson v. Astrue, No. 10-cv-00675-REB, 2011 WL
97234, at *2 (D. Colo. Jan. 12, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(b)-(f)); see also 20 C.F.R §
416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748,
750-51 (10th Cir. 1988). After the third step, the ALJ is
required to assess the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(e). The claimant has the burden of proof in steps one
through four. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at
step five. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th
A 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) [and 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B)]. “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.”
…. 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
Wilson, 2011 WL 97234, at *1 (quoting Campbell
v. Bowen, 822 F.2d 1518, 1521 (10th Cir.1987)).
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision,
[o]ur review is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether
the agency's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. It is more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.
Lee v. Berryhill, No. 16-5163, - F. App'x -,
2017 WL 2297392, at *1 (10th Cir. May 25, 2017) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted, citing inter alia
Knight ex rel. P.K. v. Colvin, 756 F.3d 1171, 1175 (10th
Cir. 2014)). See also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall