United States District Court, D. Colorado
JOSEPH G. SANDOVAL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Kathleen M Tafoya United States Magistrate Judge
matter comes before the court on review of the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff Joseph G.
Sandoval's application for supplemental security income
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (See
generally Doc. No. 11, Social Security Administrative
filed his opening brief on June 15, 2017 (Doc. No. 15
[“Opening Br.”]). Defendant filed his response on
July 16, 2017 (Doc. No. 16 [“Resp.”]), and a
reply was filed on July 21, 2017. (Doc. No. 17
[“Reply”].) Jurisdiction is proper under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
denying Plaintiff's claim, Commissioner found Plaintiff
not disabled under the Social Security Administration's
regulations (“SSA”). (AR 11, 167-75, 194).) The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for
review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision final for
purposes of judicial review. (AR 1-6.)
determining disability, the ALJ used the five-step sequential
evaluation process.After reviewing the record, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had severe impairments that included alcohol
dependence with alcohol related seizures, generalized anxiety
disorder, cannabis dependence, and chronic pulmonary disease.
(AR 13.) However, the ALJ found that he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments listed in or
medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404,
subpart P, appendix 1. When turning to Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ
found Plaintiff capable of performing a full range of work at
all exertional levels but with some limitations as to
ladders, heights, machinery and pulmonary irritants.
Regarding mental limitations, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable
of performing no more than moderately complex instructions,
no frequent or prolonged social interactions, and no
fast-paced production work. (AR 19-33.) Based upon vocational
expert testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could
perform work existing in the national economy and was thus
not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (AR 33-34.)
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).
Review of the Commissioner's disability decision is
limited to determining whether the ALJ (1) applied the
correct legal standard, and (2) 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.
Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556 (D. Colo.
“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
ALJ's findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations
omitted). And as the Tenth Circuit observed in Baca v.
Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 5 F.3d 476, 480
(10th Cir. 1993), the ALJ has a basic duty of inquiry to
“fully and fairly develop the record as to material
issues.” Id. This duty exists even when the
claimant is represented by counsel. Id. at 480.
raises several issues for consideration-primarily challenging
the weight afforded to Plaintiff's medical care
providers. Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ's RFC
analysis is infected with error because of inconsistencies
between substantial evidence in the record and the RFC
determination. The court finds Plaintiff's arguments
The ALJ Erred in Formulating the RFC
determination is made by the ALJ “based on all the
relevant evidence in [the claimant's] case record.”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC is an assessment of
the most a claimant can do despite his limitations.
Id. Examples of the types of evidence required to be
considered in making an RFC assessment are the claimant's
medical history, medical signs and laboratory findings, and
medical source statements. Soc. Sec. Ruling (SSR) 96-8p (July
2, 1996). An ALJ must make specific RFC findings based on all
of the relevant evidence in the case record. See Winfrey
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996); SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5 (July 2, 1996):
The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts . . . and nonmedical evidence ... the
adjudicator must discuss the individual's ability to
perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting
on a regular and continuing basis … and describe the
maximum amount of each work-related activity the individual
can perform based on the evidence available in the case
record. The adjudicator must ...