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Guajardo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 30, 2017

PATRICIA GUAJARDO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          Kristen L. Mix, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court[2] on the Social Security Administrative Record [#11], [3] filed January 13, 2017, 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 supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On February 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#15] (the “Brief”). Defendant filed a Response [#16] 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 AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on August 31, 2001. Tr. 12.[4] On December 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Tr. 12. On October 9, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 20.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since December 10, 2013, the application date. Tr. 14. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from one severe impairment, i.e., degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with disc herniation and radiculopathy. Tr. 14. However, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals “the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).” Tr. 15. The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations:

[S]he is unable to climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She must avoid hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. She cannot perform fast-paced production work. She can only use foot petals bilaterally on an occasional basis. She requires a sit/stand option meaning that she is able to sit for a period of up to thirty minutes and then she has to get up to stretch for five to ten minutes prior to sitting down without leaving the work station.

Tr. 15. Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work, but found that there are jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff can perform, including the representative occupations of office helper and cashier. Tr. 19-20. The ALJ therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. Tr. 20. The ALJ's decision has become the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         II. 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 economy.”

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).

         “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.” 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. 1995).

         The 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 Fed.Appx. 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).

         A. ...


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