United States District Court, D. Colorado
HOLLY T. VIGIL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
KRISTEN L. MIX MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record [#10],  filed October 11,
2016, in support of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] seeking
review of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance
benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and for
supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI
of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On August 15, 2016,
Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#14] (the
“Brief”). Defendant filed a Response [#15] in
opposition. No Reply was filed. The Court has jurisdiction to
review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). The Court has reviewed the
entire case file and the applicable law and is sufficiently
advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and
this case is REMANDED for further
alleges that she became disabled at the age of thirty-three
on October 15, 2011. Tr. 152, 159. On March 29, 2013, Plaintiff
filed applications for disability insurance benefits under
Title II and for supplemental security income under Title
XVI. Tr. 134-51. On November 4, 2014, an Administrative Law
Judge (the “ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision.
determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Act through December 31, 2016, and that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”) since October 15, 2011, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 14. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from three
severe impairments: (1) bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; (2)
cervical degenerative disc disease; and (3) obesity. Tr. 14.
However, the ALJ also found that these impairments,
individually or in combination, do not meet or medically
equal “the severity of one of the listed impairments in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).”
Tr. 14-15. The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a
limited range of light work:
. . . except the claimant can occasionally lift and/or carry
20 pounds and frequently 10 pounds; stand and/or walk about
six hours in and [sic] eight- hour workday; and sit for a
total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday. The
claimant cannot push/pull with the left upper extremity, due
to no range of motion with the left wrist. The claimant can
frequently climb ramps and stairs; occasionally climb
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; frequently stoop, kneel, and
crouch, and occasionally crawl. The claimant can reach in any
direction (including overhead), occasionally handle (gross
manipulation), and finger and feeling without limitation. The
claimant has no visual, communicative, or environment
Tr. 15. Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a cashier
II. Tr. 19. He therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step
four of the sequential evaluation. Tr. 19-20. The ALJ's
decision has become the final decision of the Commissioner
for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
to the Act:
[T]he Social Security Administration is authorized to pay
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income to persons who have a “disability.” A
person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such
benefits, “only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B)). Under the applicable legal standard, a
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(a); see also Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a)). The existence of a qualifying
disabling impairment must be demonstrated by “medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic”
findings. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 423(d)(5)(A).
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.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d
1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(C)). 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 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 months.
See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir.
Court reviews a final decision by the Commissioner by
examining the administrative record and determining
“whether the [ALJ's] factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). However,
the Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.”
Harper v. Colvin, 528 F.App'x 887, 890 (10th
Cir. 2013) (quoting Barnett v. Apfel, 231 F.3d 687,
689 (10th Cir. 2000)). In other words, the Court does not
reexamine the issues de novo. Sisco v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir.
1993). Thus, even when some evidence could support contrary
findings, the Court “may not displace the agency's
choice between two fairly conflicting views, ” even if
the Court may have “made a different choice had the
matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v.
Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).
Social Security Administration uses a five-step framework to
determine whether a claimant meets the necessary conditions
to receive Social Security benefits. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden
of proof at steps one through four, and if the claimant fails
at any of these steps, consideration of any subsequent step
or steps is unnecessary. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (“If a determination can be
made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not
disabled, evaluation under a ...