United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
S. KRIEGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Complaint (# 1), the Plaintiff's Opening
Brief (# 17) and the Defendant's
Response (# 19). For the following reasons,
the Commissioner's decision is reversed and the matter is
remanded for further proceedings.
Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision
of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Vance seeks judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner denying her claims for disability insurance
benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under
the Social Security Act. In January 2014, Ms. Vance filed for
DIB and SSI, claiming she became disabled in September 2013,
as amended. Tr. at 145, 336-50. After her application was
denied at all administrative levels, she now appeals to this
Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
time of his alleged onset of disability, Ms. Vance was 51
years old. Tr. at 336. She was previously employed as a human
resources assistant, sandwich maker, and administrative
clerk. Tr. at 410.
August 2015, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Ms.
Vance. Tr. at 118-29. At step one, she found that Ms. Vance
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
September 1, 2013. Tr. at 121. At step two, the ALJ found
that Ms. Vance had the severe impairment of degenerative
joint disease of the right knee, status-post surgery. Tr. at
122. The ALJ further found that the following impairments
were not severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, thyroid
disease, vertigo, uterine prolapse, depression, and cannabis
use. Tr. at 122. At step three, she found that Ms. Vance did
not have an impairment that met or medically equaled the
presumptively disabling conditions listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Appendix 1. Tr. at 123. The ALJ further found that Ms.
Vance had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform
light work with the following limitations: she can
occasionally climb ramps, stairs, and ladders; she can
occasionally crouch, kneel, and crawl; she can frequently
balance and stoop; and she can maintain and sustain an
ordinary routine and attendance. Tr. at 123. At step four,
the ALJ found that Ms. Vance was capable of performing her
past relevant work as an administrative clerk and assistant
manager. Tr. at 127. The ALJ did made alternative findings at
step five, stating that Ms. Vance could also perform the jobs
of housekeeper, cafeteria attendant, and price marker. Tr. at
single issue is raised - whether the ALJ erred in the step
two determination because he did not employ the psychiatric
review technique in assessing for her mental impairment as
required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Court's review is de novo, the Court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision if it is free from legal error
and the Commissioner's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence. See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart,
431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
evidence a reasonable person would accept to support a
conclusion, requiring “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The Court may not reweigh the
evidence, it looks to the entire record to determine if
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
decision. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th
Vance argues that the ALJ erred at step two by not conducting
the psychiatric review technique for her mental impairment as
required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a.
two, an ALJ is required to address all medically determinable
impairments and rate their severity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). With regard to mental
impairments, the Commissioner's regulations provide for a
special technique - the psychiatric review technique, or PRT
- that is meant to clarify and streamline the process of
determining impairment severity. §§ 404.1520a(a),
416.920a(a). Under the technique, the ALJ must evaluate a
claimant's symptoms and laboratory findings to determine
whether a proposed mental impairment is medically
determinable. §§ 404.1520a(b)(1), 416.920a(b)(1).
If so, the ALJ then must specify the symptoms and laboratory
findings that substantiate the impairment and ...