United States District Court, D. Colorado
KYLE D. SPROVERI, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
Kristen L. Mix United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record [#14],  filed March 2,
2017, in support of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] seeking
review of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance
benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. On May 12,
2017, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#20] (the
“Brief”), and Defendant filed a Response [#21] in
opposition. Plaintiff did not file a reply and the time for
doing so has elapsed. The Court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). The Court has reviewed the
entire case file and the applicable law and is sufficiently
advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and
REMANDED for further proceedings.
alleges that he became disabled on January 1, 2012. Tr.
On March 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for disability
and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II. Tr.
59. On May 29, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 73.
determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Act through September 30, 2014, and that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”) from his alleged onset date of January 1,
2012, through his date last insured of September 30, 2014.
Tr. 61. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from four severe
impairments: (1) anxiety, (2) an affective disorder, (3) a
personality disorder, and (4) substance abuse addiction. Tr.
62. However, the ALJ also found that these impairments,
individually or in combination, do not meet or medically
equal “the severity of one of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (20 C.F.R.
404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).” Tr. 63. The ALJ
next concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels with the following limitations:
[T]he [Plaintiff] was able to understand, remember and carry
work/tasks learned in up to six months; and the [Plaintiff]
is able to occasionally interact with coworkers, and
supervisors, but no contact with the public.
Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
unable to perform past relevant work, but that he was able to
perform representative occupations such as night cleaner,
hand packager, motel housekeeper, or overnight stocker. Tr.
71-72. She therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step
five of the sequential evaluation. Tr. 72. The ALJ's
decision has become the final decision of the Commissioner
for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
Pursuant to the Act:
[T]he Social Security Administration is authorized to pay
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income to persons who have a “disability.” A
person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such
benefits, “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
v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B)). Under the
applicable legal standard, a claimant is disabled if he or
she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected
to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a); see
also Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th
Cir. 2009) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a)). The
existence of a qualifying disabling impairment must be
demonstrated by “medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic” findings. 42 U.S.C. §§
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 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 Cir.
Court reviews a final decision by the Commissioner by
examining the administrative record and determining
“whether the [ALJ's] factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). However,
the Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.”
Harper v. Colvin, 528 F. App'x 887, 890 (10th
Cir. 2013) (quoting Barnett v. Apfel, 231 F.3d 687,
689 (10th Cir. 2000)). In other words, the Court does not
reexamine the issues de novo. Sisco v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir.
1993). Thus, even when some evidence could support contrary
findings, the Court “may not displace the agency's
choice between two fairly conflicting views, ” even if
the Court may have “made a different choice had the
matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v.
Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).
Social Security Administration uses a five-step framework to
determine whether a claimant meets the necessary conditions
to receive Social Security benefits. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden
of proof at steps one through four, and if the claimant fails
at any of these steps, consideration of any subsequent step
or steps is unnecessary. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (“If a determination can be
made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not
disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not
necessary.”). The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987).
one requires the ALJ to determine whether a claimant is
“presently engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quoting
Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1142 (10th Cir.
2004)). If not, the ALJ considers at step two whether a
claimant has “a medically severe impairment or
impairments.” Id. “An impairment is
severe under the applicable regulations if it significantly
limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to perform
basic work activities.” Id. 1052 (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1521). Next, at step three, the ALJ
considers whether a claimant's medically severe
impairments are equivalent to a condition “listed in
the appendix of the relevant disability regulation, ”
i.e., the “Listings.” Wall, 561
F.3d at 1052 (quoting Allen, 357 F.3d at 1142).
“If a claimant's impairments are not equivalent to
a listed impairment, the ALJ must consider, at step four,
whether a claimant's impairments prevent [him or her]
from performing [his or ...