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Lawrence v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 27, 2017

MARK H. LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Lewis T. Babcock, Judge.

         Plaintiff Mark H. Lawrence appeals Defendant's (the “Commissioner”) final administrative decision denying his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Jurisdiction in this appeal is proper pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Oral argument would not materially assist in the determination of this appeal. After consideration of the briefs and the record, I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Statement of the Case

         Following a hearing before an ALJ, Plaintiff's disability claim was denied in a decision dated June 22, 2016. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review thereby rendering the ALJ's June 22, 2016 decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of my review. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Statement of Facts

         A. Plaintiff's Disability Hearing

         At the May 19, 2016 hearing on his disability claim, Plaintiff testified that he could lift or carry about 50 pounds and stand for a couple of hours but not walk very far due to problems with his breathing. AR 62. Plaintiff further testified that he experienced daily asthma flare-ups; had difficulty concentrating and getting along with other people; and is frequently ill. AR 59 & 69. Plaintiff indicated that he spends a typical day looking for a job. AR 62.

         The VE identified Plaintiff's past work as a courtesy clerk, a sorter/pricer, and a material handler. AR 71. The ALJ asked the VE if a person who could perform work at the medium exertional level with a maximum SVP of 2 but could not climb ladders and scaffolds, work at unprotected heights or with dangerous machinery, work in extreme heat or cold, be exposed to pulmonary irritants, or have any interaction with the public as part of his job duties could perform any of Plaintiff's past work. AR 71-2. The VE responded that such an individual could not perform Plaintiff's past work but could perform the medium exertional level jobs of buffet attendant and hand packager. AR 72. The ALJ declined the VE's offer to further identify light exertional level jobs that Plaintiff was capable of performing. Id.

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         In her June 22, 2016 decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential process outlined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a). At the first step of the sequential process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the August 14, 2015 filing date of his application for supplemental security income. AR 35. At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of asthma, obesity, mood disorder/depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. Id. At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.

         The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c) but was limited to simple, routine, repetitive work with a maximum SVP of 2. AR 37. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff was unable to climb ladders and scaffolds; work at unprotected heights; work with dangerous machinery; work in extreme heat or cold; come in contact with pulmonary irritants; have more than occasional interactions with supervisors and coworkers; or have any interaction with the public as part of his job duties. Id. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work but concluded that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform such as buffet attendant and hand packager. AR 41. Thus, the ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act since the August 14, 2015 filing of his application for supplemental security income. AR 41.

         III. Standard of Review

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, I must determine whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1992); Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hamilton, supra, 961 F.2d at 1498. I “may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [my] discretion for that of the Administrative Law Judge.” Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 337 (10th Cir. 1995).

         IV. ...


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