United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO
E. Blackburn United States District Judge.
matter before me is plaintiff's
Complaint [#1],  filed April 19, 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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
alleges she is disabled as a result of lumbar and cervical
osteoarthritis, depression, anxiety, substance abuse
disorder, and obesity. After her 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 June 24,
2015. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 48 years old.
She has a high school education and past relevant work
experience as a telephone operator, accounting clerk, manager
of a bowling alley, and certified nursing assistant. She has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September
12, 2013, her amended alleged date of onset.
found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled
to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security
income benefits. Although the medical evidence established
plaintiff suffered from multiple severe impairments, the
judge concluded the severity of those impairments did not
meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security
regulations. Other impairments were found to be non-severe.
The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
to perform a reduced range of light work with postural and
non-exertional limitations. 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 she 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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act only if her physical and/or mental impairments preclude
her from performing both her 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).
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). See also
Williams v. Bowen 844 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
conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v.
Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933
F.2d 799, 801 (10th Cir. 1991).
of the Deputy Commissioner's disability decision is
limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct
legal standard and whether the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health and
HumanServices, 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98
(10th Cir. 1992); Brown v. Sullivan, 912
F.2d 1194, 1196 (10th Cir. 1990). Substantial
evidence is evidence a reasonable mind would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Brown, 912 F.2d at
1196. It requires more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance of the evidence. Hedstrom v. Sullivan,
783 F.Supp. 553, 556 (D. Colo. 1992). “Evidence 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). Further, “if the ALJ failed to apply the correct
legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack
of substantial ...