United States District Court, D. Colorado
NORI S. ABOSEDRA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
A. BRIMMER, United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on the Complaint [Docket No. 1]
filed by plaintiff Nori S. Abosedra on June 8, 2016.
Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant
Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) denying
his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-33 and 1381-83c. The Court has jurisdiction
to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
March 28, 2013, plaintiff applied for supplemental security
income under Title XVI of the Act. R. at 11. Plaintiff
alleged that he was disabled beginning January 1, 2010.
Id. After an administrative denial, plaintiff
appeared at an administrative hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 30,
2014. Id. On January 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision denying plaintiff's claim. Id. at
11-28. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following
impairments: lumbar spine disorder, status-post surgeries,
chronic pain syndrome, obesity, degenerative disc disease,
asthma, and hypertension. Id. at 13. The ALJ found
that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet
one of the regulations' listed impairments, id.
at 15, and found that plaintiff had following residual
functional capacity (“RFC”):
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except
as stated otherwise as follows. The claimant is able to
lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently.
During an 8-hour workday, the claimant is able to stand
and/or walk 30 minutes at a time for a total of 4 hours, and
sit 30 minutes at a time for a total of 6 hours. The claimant
is able to frequently balance and crouch; and occasionally
kneel, stoop, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He is unable
to push, pull, or otherwise operate foot controls with either
lower extremity. He is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme cold. He should avoid prolonged exposure to
concentrated levels of pulmonary irritants such as dust,
gases, and chemicals. He should avoid unprotected heights,
dangerous machinery and excessive vibration.
Id. at 15. Based on this RFC and in reliance on the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ
concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform.
Id. at 27-28. On April 14, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision. Id. at 1-3. Thus, the ALJ's decision
is the final decision of the Commissioner.
Standard of 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.
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
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 impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets an impairment listed in
appendix 1 of the relevant regulation; (4) whether the
impairment precludes the claimant from doing his past
relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment precludes the
claimant from doing any work. Trimiar v. Sullivan,
966 F.2d 1326, 1329 (10th Cir. 1992) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b)-(f)). 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.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933
F.2d 799, 801 (10th Cir. 1991).
claimant has the initial burden of establishing a case of
disability. However, “[i]f the claimant is not
considered disabled at step three, but has satisfied her
burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability under
steps one, two, and four, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show the claimant has the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform other work in the national economy
in view of her age, education, and work experience.”
See Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731
(10th Cir. 2005); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). While the claimant has the initial
burden of proving a disability, “the ALJ has a basic
duty of inquiry, to inform himself about facts relevant to
his decision and to learn the claimant's own version of
those facts.” Hill v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 972,
974 (10th Cir. 1991).
The ALJ's Decision
argues that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to appropriately
weigh the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians;
(2) failing to discuss all of plaintiff's diagnoses; (3)
failing to adequately account for plaintiff's pain; and
(4) disregarding portions of the vocational expert's
opinion. See Docket No. 13 at 2.
The ALJ's Weighing of the Medical Evidence
argues that the ALJ failed to “follow the treating
physician rule” and improperly discounted the medical
opinions of Jason Cannell, D.O., E. Lee Nelson, M.D., Lief