United States District Court, D. Colorado
KIMBERLY E. SLUIS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISISONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
KATHLEEN M. TAFOYA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case comes before the court on review of the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff Kimberly E.
Sluis's application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”). Jurisdiction is
proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed her
Opening Brief on November 25, 2016 (Doc. No. 44 [Opening
Br.]), Defendant filed her Response Brief on December 14,
2016 (Doc. No. 45 [Resp. Br.]), and Plaintiff filed her Reply
Brief on December 21, 2016 (Doc. No. 21 [Reply Br.]).
filed applications for DIB and SSI in October 2014, alleging
disability beginning in March 2013 due to depression and
other physical impairments. (Administrative Record [AR] at
221-22, 228-33, 273.) The ALJ held a hearing in December
2015, during which Plaintiff and a vocational expert
testified. (AR at 48-102.) The ALJ issued a decision on
January 4, 2016, finding Plaintiff was not disabled and not
entitled to DIB or SSI because she retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of
sedentary work and a significant number of jobs in the
national economy. (AR at 21-40.) The ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(AR at 1-5.) Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides for this Court's
person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act only if his physical and/or mental impairments preclude
him from performing both his previous work and any other
“substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “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 Social Security 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
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment
is “severe.” A “severe impairment”
must significantly limit the claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or
equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix
1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a
listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant can perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional
capacity to perform his past work, the ALJ must decide
whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and
substantial work in the economy. This determination is made
on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also Williams
v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988). The
claimant has the initial burden of establishing a disability
in the first four steps of this analysis. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The burden then
shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy.
Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not
disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive
and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 801 (10th
of the Commissioner's disability decision is limited to
determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992);
Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196 (10th Cir.
1990). Substantial evidence is evidence a reasonable mind
would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Brown, 912 F.2d at 1196. It requires more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance of the evidence.
Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556 (D. Colo.
1992). “Evidence is not substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes
mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Further, “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). The court “meticulously examine[s] the record as
a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from
the [administrative law ...