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Lopez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 6, 2018

TRACY V. LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         This Social Security appeal is brought under 42 U.S.C. 1383 (c)(3). Plaintiff Tracy Lopez (“Plaintiff”) challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”), denying his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) disability benefits. After a hearing, the denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff who was born in 1972, applied for SSI in January 2013, alleging disability beginning in November 2008. (Administrative Record (“R.”) (ECF No. 11) at 22, 16.) At issue in this appeal are the ALJ's reasons for rejecting his claims of disability during the relevant time period caused by Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with C7 nerve root compression and mild lumbar degenerative disc disease. (R. at 18.)

         The Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff's SSI application on August 13, 2013. (R. at 16.) Plaintiff appealed and requested a hearing before an ALJ, which took place on April 30, 2015 in Pueblo, Colo. (Id.) The ALJ denied benefits by written opinion dated April 22, 2015, following the five-step sequential evaluation process.[2] (R. at 18-22.)

         At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 18, 2013, the application date. (R. at 18.) Although Plaintiff testified that he worked as a neighborhood canvasser, he only worked for eight days secondary to his limitations on walking and earned $493.00 in the fourth quarter of 2013. (Id.) The ALJ noted that this is considered an unsuccessful work attempt. (Id.)

         At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine with C7 nerve root compression and mild lumbar degenerative disc disease. (Id.) The ALJ found that those “impairments impose more than minimal restriction on [Plaintiff]'s ability to perform basic work activities and therefore are ‘severe' impairments within the meaning of the Regulations.” (Id.)

         At step three the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Id.)

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the [Plaintiff] can stand or walk up to six hours in an eight hour workday. He can push and pull with his lower extremities within the light exertional range. [Plaintiff] can push and pull occasionally in the light exertional range. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can stoop, bend and crouch occasionally. He cannot crawl. [Plaintiff] can perform overhead reaching bilaterally occasionally. [Plaintiff] should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, humidity, wetness, dampness, vibrations, unprotected heights, unprotected industrial machinery. He can perform work at the unskilled level.

(Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the [Plaintiff]'s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible.” (R. At 19-20.) The ALJ found that his “residual functional capacity assessment is supported by the objective medical findings of cervical radiculopathy and mild degenerative lumbar disc disease as well as exam findings that support some signs and symptoms relative to these diagnoses.” (R. at 22.) The ALJ “limited the [Plaintiff]'s exposure to environmental and workplace hazards to prevent exacerbation of pain due to exposure to conditions and as a safety precaution.” (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had past relevant work as a construction laborer and a laundry worker. (R. at 22.) The ALJ concluded, “[t]he [Plaintiff] is limited to a light exertional range, which precludes all of his past work. Accordingly, the [Plaintiff] is unable to perform past relevant work.” (Id.)

         At step five, the ALJ concluded that “[c]onsidering the [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [Plaintiff] can perform.” (R. at 23.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 18, 2013, the date the application was filed.” (Id.)

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (ECF 14 at 2.)[3] The Court therefore reviews the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final denial of ...


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