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Marquez-Hernandez v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 22, 2018



          Marcia S. Krieger Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court as an appeal from the Commissioner's Final Administrative Decision (“Decision”) determining that the Plaintiff Hector Marquez-Hernandez is not disabled within the meaning of sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Having considered all of the documents filed, including the record (#14), the Court now finds and concludes as follows:


         The Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mr. Marquez-Hernandez protectively filed applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act in January 2014. He claimed that he was disabled based beginning July 1, 2013. The state agency denied his claim. He requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who issued an unfavorable decision. Mr. Marquez-Hernandez appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review, making the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Marquez-Hernandez timely appealed to this Court, which reviews the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final denial of benefits. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).


         The Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates as necessary in its analysis.

         Mr. Marquez-Hernandez was born in 1967. He was 46 years on his initially-alleged disability onset date in July 2013, and 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and one year of college. He has work history as a press operator for graphics and printing companies. Mr. Marquez-Hernandez reported having a stroke in July 2013, at which time he stopped working. He suffered a second stroke in October 2013. Mr. Marquez-Hernandez has since experienced various stroke-related symptoms, including impaired vision, partial paralysis or weakness on his right side, and slurred speech. In addition, the record reflects mental health and non-exertional impairments which are the focus of this appeal. However, since he does not contest the ALJ's treatment of the medical records and opinions or the ALJ's findings of the relevant conditions and impairments, the Court need not further detail the medical record.

         Mr. Marquez-Hernandez filed protective applications for DIB & SSI on January 31, 2014. His applications were initially denied on August 22, 2014. He then filed a written request for a hearing on September 11, 2014. Prior to the hearing, he amended the alleged onset date of his disability to November 22, 2013. The hearing was held on February 4, 2016, and Mr. Marquez-Hernandez and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on March 2, 2016, denying benefits.


         The ALJ analyzed this case pursuant to the sequential five-step inquiry. At step one, the ALJ found Mr. Marquez-Hernandez had not worked or engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Marquez-Hernandez had the following severe impairments: impaired vision in his left eye, status-post two strokes; obesity; hypertension; organic mental disorder; depression; and polysubstance abuse. At step three, the ALJ found Mr. Marquez-Hernandez's impairments did not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment in the appendix of the regulations. In making this finding, the ALJ considered Mr. Marquez-Hernandez's mental impairments, finding he had mild restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace, noting, inter alia, that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez reported he “does not finish what he starts, has difficulty following written instructions, and needs reminders of what to do.” (#14 at 16). The ALJ concluded that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez's mental impairments did not include at least two areas of “marked” limitations. Therefore, she found his “mental impairments, while they are severe, do not involve such severe symptoms as to satisfy the criteria for any appropriate listings.” Id.[1]

         The ALJ then assessed Mr. Marquez-Hernandez's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) and determined that:

[Mr. Marquez-Hernandez] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he is limited to unskilled, SVP 1 or 2 work, can have minimal to no direct contact with the public; should avoid unprotected heights and moving machinery; can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can frequently reach overhead, in front, and laterally with the dominant right upper extremity; and can perform no work requiring frequent, fine communication due to slurred speech. He can lift or carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. He could stand or walk with normal breaks for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit with normal breaks for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He could perform pushing and pulling motions with his upper and lower extremities within the weight restrictions given except pushing and pulling with his right dominant upper extremity would be limited to frequent.

Id. at 17 (emphasis added). The ALJ then found, at step four, that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez was unable to perform past relevant work as a press operator.

         At step five, based on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 28-29. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez could work in occupations such as production assembler, dry cleaner, and “marker” (i.e., a price marker/ticket marker, or marking clerk, see Dictionary of Occupational Titles No. 209.587-034). Id. at 29, 63. Given the ALJ's step five determination, she concluded that Mr. Marquez-Hernandez was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act.

         ISSUES ...

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