United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. Rankin United States Magistrate Judge.
action comes before the court pursuant to Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401, et seq.; 1381, et seq.,
for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final
decision denying Erika Benson's application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to
the consent of the parties, this civil action was referred to
the Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and D.C.Colo.LCivR 72.2.
See Docs. 13, 19, 20. The court has carefully
considered the Complaint (filed March 22, 2017) (Doc. 1),
Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed June 30, 2017) (Doc.
16), Defendant's Response Brief (filed July 18, 2017)
(Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Reply (filed August 3, 2017) (Doc.
18), the entire case file, the administrative record, and
applicable case law. For the following reasons, the court
REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further
March 2016, Plaintiff, Erika Benson, applied for DIB and SSI,
alleging a disability onset date of May 2, 2015.
(See Social Security Administrative Record
(hereinafter “AR”) at 17, 167, 171). Plaintiff
alleged that her ability to work was limited by a number of
impairments, including pancreatic cancer, lung cancer,
degenerative disc disease, and scoliosis. Id. at
198. Plaintiff was born on December 28, 1975, and was 39
years old on the date of her alleged disability onset.
Id. at 167. She completed the 12th grade
and has previous work experience as a medical assistant,
clinic coordinator, office manager, title clerk, and cashier.
Id. at 34-37, 199, 456. After her initial
application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which
was held on October 31, 2016, before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at 29-53,
November 21, 2016, the ALJ issued his decision denying
benefits. Id. at 12-28. The ALJ's opinion
followed the five-step process outlined in the Social
Security regulations. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since May
2, 2015. Id. at 17. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1)
degenerative disc disease status-post discectomy; and (2)
failed back syndrome with chronic pain; (3) solitary nodule
in the right lung; (4) sleep-related hypoxemia; and (5)
pancreatitis. Id. The ALJ also concluded that
Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of
adjustment disorder and anxiety were not severe. Id.
at 18. At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Benson did not
have an impairment that met or medically equaled a listed
impairment. Id. at 19.
then assessed the following residual functional capacity
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except with occasional
posturals (climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping,
kneeling and crouching); however, no crawling or climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant should have no
exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving
mechanical parts; and no concentrated exposure to extreme
heat, extreme cold, wetness, humidity, vibration, fumes,
odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation.
Id. The ALJ concluded that although Plaintiff's
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause her alleged symptoms, the evidence did not
support a finding that she was as limited as she claimed.
See id. at 20-22.
four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Benson is capable of
performing her past relevant work as an advertising clerk and
servicing clerk because those positions do not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by her RFC.
Id. at 22. Accordingly, Plaintiff's application
for benefits was denied. Id. at 23-24.
the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. Id. at 11. The Appeals Council
denied her request on January 24, 2017. Id. at 1-4.
The decision of the ALJ then became the final decision of the
Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Nelson v.
Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1119 (10th Cir. 1993) (citation
omitted). Ms. Benson filed this action on March 22, 2017.
Doc. 1. The court has jurisdiction to review the final
decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
raises numerous arguments on appeal. One of those arguments -
the ALJ erred in failing to analyze whether her mental
impairments limit her ability to perform basic work
activities in the RFC assessment - is sufficient on its own
to warrant reversal. Therefore, the court declines to address
the others as they may be impacted on remand. See Watkins
v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1299 (10th Cir. 2003)
(“We will not reach the remaining issues raised by
appellant because they may be affected by the [administrative
law judge's] treatment of the case on remand.”);
see also Brown v. Barnhart, 182 F. App'x 771,
772 (10th Cir. 2006) (failure to find plaintiff's
fibromyalgia severe at step two impacted the subsequent steps
in the ALJ's analysis); Crider v. Barnhart, 427
F.Supp.2d 999, 1010 (D. Colo. 2006) (declining to address
plaintiff's additional contentions where the ALJ erred at
step two by failing to address whether plaintiff had
appeal, Ms. Benson contends the ALJ erred in determining her
mental impairments were non-severe. Doc. 16 at 19. She
further contends that even assuming arguendo the ALJ
did not err at step two, the ALJ did commit reversible error
when he failed to analyze whether these mental impairments
limit her ability to perform basic work activities in the RFC
assessment. Id. In response, the Commissioner seems
to argue that the ALJ sufficiently considered the record as a
whole and, therefore, any failure to analyze Plaintiff's
mental limitations is harmless error. Doc. 17 at 9.