United States District Court, D. Colorado
KRISTEN L. MIX UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record [#11],  filed November
14, 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 December 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief
[#15] (the “Brief”). Defendant filed a Response
[#19] in opposition, and Plaintiff filed a Reply [#20]. 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
alleges that he became disabled at the age of forty on June
30, 2007. Tr. 30, 43. On December 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II
and for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Tr. 30.
On April 25, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 44.
determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Act through December 31, 2012, and that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”) since June 30, 2007, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from four
severe impairments: (1) obesity; (2) syncope episodes; (3)
depression; and (4) anxiety. Tr. 32. 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. 33-35. The ALJ
next concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the
[H]e has no limitations in sitting, lifting, or carrying; he
can frequently stand and occasionally walk. The claimant can
occasionally bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He must
avoid unprotected heights, driving, operating dangerous
machinery, and climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The
claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple 2-3
step instructions an[d] can complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruption and can work at a consistent
pace. He can sustain superficial noncollaborative
interactions, supervisors, and the general public, and he is
capable of adapting to changes in pressures in the workplace
if changes are occasional and pressure is frequent or less.
Tr. 35. Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff could perform no past relevant work, but that he
was able to perform the representative occupations of small
parts assembler, mailroom clerk, and office helper. Tr. 43.
She therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step five of
the sequential evaluation. Tr. 44. The ALJ's decision has
become the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of
judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
Pursuant 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 subsequent step is not
necessary.”). The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987).
one requires the ALJ to determine whether a claimant is
“presently engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quoting
Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1142 (10th Cir.
2004)). If not, the ALJ considers at step two whether a
claimant has “a medically severe impairment or
impairments.” Id. “An impairment is
severe under the applicable regulations if it significantly
limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to perform
basic work activities.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521). Next, at step three, the
ALJ considers whether a claimant's medically severe
impairments are equivalent to a condition “listed in
the appendix of the relevant disability regulation, ”
i.e., the “Listings.” Wall, 561
F.3d at 1052 (quoting Allen, 357 F.3d at 1142).
“If a claimant's impairments are not equivalent to
a listed impairment, the ALJ must consider, at step four,
whether a claimant's impairments prevent [him or her]
from performing [his or her] past relevant work.”
Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (citing Allen, 357
F.3d at 1142). “Even if a claimant is so impaired, the
agency considers, at step five, whether [he or she] possesses
the sufficient [RFC] to perform other work in the national
must consider all evidence and explain why he or she finds a
claimant not disabled. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d
1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1996). However, the ALJ need not
specifically “reference everything in the
administrative record.” Wilson, 602 F.3d at
1148. “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. at 1140 (internal quotation
marks omitted). “It requires more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489
F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). A decision by the ALJ is
not based on substantial evidence “if it is overwhelmed
by other evidence in the record . . . .” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). In
other words, the Court's determination of whether the ALJ
has supported his or her ruling with substantial evidence
“must be based upon the record taken as a whole.”
Washington v. Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir.
1994). Further, evidence is not substantial if it
“constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). In
addition, “if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal
test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of
substantial evidence.” Thompson v. Sullivan,
987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).