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Akbichi v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 11, 2018

AZIZ AKBICHI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, [[1]]Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO DEPUTY COMMISSIONER

          Robert E. Blackburn United States District Judge.

         The matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1], [2] filed April 5, 2017, seeking review of the Deputy Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review the Deputy Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need for oral argument. I reverse and remand.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of osteoarthritis and avascular necrosis of the right hip, epilepsy, obesity, and major depressive disorder and personality disorder. After his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on October 7, 2015. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 49 years old. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a refrigeration technician and a furniture salesman. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 30, 2008, his alleged date of onset.

         The ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income benefits. Although the medical evidence established plaintiff's suffered from severe impairments, the judge concluded the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work with postural, environmental, and non-exertional limitations, most specifically for present purposes, a limitation to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. Although this finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the judge determined there were other jobs existing in sufficient numbers in the national and local economies that he could perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step five of the sequential evaluation. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if his physical and/or mental impairments preclude him from performing both his previous work and any other “substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “When a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social Security [Act] requires the [Deputy 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 Social Security 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. 1995).

         The Deputy Commissioner has established a quinquepartite sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled:

1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment is “severe.” A “severe impairment” must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix 1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional capacity to perform her past work, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and substantial work in the economy. This determination is made on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).[3]See also Williams v. Bowen844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988). The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a disability in the first four steps of this analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). The burden then shifts to the Deputy Commissioner to show that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy. Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is ...


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