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Castillo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 21, 2018

RENEE LISA CASTILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint [Docket No. 1] filed by plaintiff Renee Lisa Castillo on December 27, 2016. Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33, and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 31, 2015, plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. R. at 17. Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since June 1, 2013. Id. After an initial administrative denial of her claim, plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 30, 2016. Id. On June 10, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. R. at 20. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “fibromyalgia, lumbar degenerative disc disease with post laminectomy syndrome and evidence of radiculopathy, mild cervical degenerative disc disease, mild degenerative joint disease of the left AC joint, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, impulse control disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” R. at 19-20. The ALJ concluded that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet one of the regulations' listed impairments, R. at 21, and found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), meaning the claimant would be limited to occasional lifting and carrying of 10 pounds, frequently lifting and carrying less than 10 pounds, standing and/or walking for no more than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. However, she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally and can only frequently reach in all other directions with the non-dominant left upper extremity. She should avoid all exposure to hazards. She can understand, remember, and carry out no more than simple tasks and instructions. She should not be subject to a production rate pace, such as assembly line work, and she cannot perform team or tandem work.

R. at 23. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a receptionist. R. at 34. Based upon the RFC and in reliance on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not capable of performing her past relevant work but is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including callout operator, document preparer, and hand painter/stainer. R. at 34-35.

         On October 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's denial of her claim. R. at 1. Given the Appeals Council's denial, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         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. 1993).

         B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process

         To 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 ...


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