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Obermire v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 27, 2018

SHAUN RAYMOND OBERMIRE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint [Docket No. 1] filed by plaintiff Shaun Raymond Obermire on June 28, 2016. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83c.[1] The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 26, 2015, plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. R. at 10. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since September 13, 2013. Id. After an administrative denial, plaintiff appeared at an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 4, 2016. Id.

         On May 19, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. R. at 21. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); hypertension with episodes of congestive heart failure; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; status-post closed head injury; vertigo; obstructive sleep apnea; history of alcohol abuse in early sustained remission; and an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” R. at 12. The ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, R. at 13, and found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except the claimant cannot climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant should avoid unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. Additionally, the claimant cannot have concentrated exposure to gases, fumes, smoke, perfumes, pulmonary irritants, or extreme cold temperatures. The claimant cannot perform fast paced, production-type work. However, the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple and detailed, but not complex instructions.

R. at 14. Based on this RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. R. at 19. On June 8, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. R. at 1. Thus, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

          Review of the Commissioner's finding that a claimant is not disabled is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Angel v. Barnhart, 329 F.3d 1208, 1209 (10th Cir. 2003). The district court may not reverse an ALJ simply because the court may have reached a different result based on the record; the question instead is whether there is substantial evidence showing that the ALJ was justified in her decision. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007). Moreover, “[e]vidence 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). The district court will not “reweigh the evidence or retry the case, ” but must “meticulously examine 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.” Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070. Nevertheless, “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).

         B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of twelve months that prevents the claimant from performing any substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)-(2). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (2006). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988). The steps of the evaluation are:

(1) whether the claimant is currently working;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe ...

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