United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Y. Wang, United States Magistrate Judge.
civil action arises under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33
and 1381-83(c) for review of the Commissioner of Social
Security Administration's ("Commissioner" or
"Defendant") final decision denying Plaintiff Jayme
Hill's ("Plaintiff or "Ms. Hill")
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). Pursuant to the Order of Reassignment
dated March 29, 2018 [#18], this civil action is before this
Magistrate Judge for a decision on the merits. See
28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73; D.C.COLO.LCivR
72.2. Upon review of the Parties' briefing, the entire
case file, the Administrative Record, and the applicable case
law, this court respectfully AFFIRMS the
case arises from Plaintiff s applications for DIB and SSI
protectively filed on May 30, 2013. [#8-3 at 96,
97].Ms. Hill graduated from high school,
obtained her associate's degree in business, and worked
as a customer service representative for Frontier Airlines,
as a real estate intern and then agent, as a customer service
representative for Nextel, as a customer service
representative for TeleTech Customer Care Management, as a
work-study participant for the Community College of
Aurora's financial aid and administration department, and
currently as a driver for Lyft for roughly 20 hours per week.
See [#8-2 at 39-43; #8-6 at 288; 312-15; #8-7 at
321-26, 330-34, 335, 364]. Ms. Hill alleges she became
disabled on January 21, 2011 [#8-3 at 98], later amended to
October 11, 2012 [#8-2 at 37], due to injuries to both her
hands, chronic regional pain syndrome ("CRPS") of
the right hand, and carpal tunnel syndrome of the left hand,
see [#8-7 at 349]. Ms. Hill was thirty-seven
years-old on the amended alleged onset date of her claimed
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiffs application
administratively on February 11, 2014. See [#8-2 at
96, 97; #8-4 at 144-48]. Ms. Hill requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), see
[#8-4 at 152-54], which ALJ Patricia E. Hartman (the
"ALJ") held on June 4, 2015, see [#8-2 at
63]. Following this hearing, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Ms. Hill not disabled. See [#8-3 at 123,
133]. Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the
ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council granted.
See [id. at 139]. The Appeals Council remanded Ms.
Hill's case back to the ALJ because the ALJ's
Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") determination
was "wholly inconsistent" with the opinion of John
Sacha, M.D., who opined that Ms. Hill could not maintain
gainful employment, which the ALJ afforded great weight.
See [id. at 141]. The Appeals Council directed the
ALJ on remand to "[g]ive further consideration to the
claimant's maximum [RFC] and provide appropriate
rationale with specific references to evidence of record in
support of the assessed limitations" and "[i]f
warranted by the expended record, obtain evidence from a
vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed
limitations on the claimant's occupational base . . .
." [Id. at 141-42].
remand, the ALJ conducted a second hearing on November 22,
2016. [#8-2 at 32]. At the hearing, Ms. Hill proceeded
through counsel, and the ALJ received testimony from
Plaintiff and Vocational Expert Pat W. Pauline (the
"VE"). See [id. at 15, 36, 58]. Relevant
here, Plaintiff testified that her only reason for not
working since 2012 was her hands. See [id. at
43-44]; see also [id. at 46 (testifying that she
does not have any mental ailments that preclude her from
working)]. She explained that she "got a cramp in [her]
hand" while working for Frontier Airlines in 2011, which
was so severe that she could not move her hand and caused her
to file a worker's compensation claim. [Id. at
42]. Plaintiff continued that Dr. Sacha informed her she had
CRPS, and that her CRPS only slightly responded to physical
therapy, cortisone shots in her wrists, "shots in her
neck", Gabapentin, and Motrin. [Id. at 44-45].
She also attested that her right wrist was worse than her
left wrist. [Id. at 47].
testified that while she currently works as a Lyft driver,
her hours vary depending "on how [her] hands are
feeling." [Id. at 39]. For instance, she
testified that driving sometimes causes her hands to swell,
cramp to the point that she cannot move them, itch, and burn,
causing her to stop driving that day. See [id. at
40-41, 53]. Further, Plaintiff explained that someone else
washes her car because "[t]hat [would] kill her
hands." [Id. at 52]. Plaintiffs issues with her
hands also prohibited her from maintaining employment as a
caretaker for the elderly because she had to push wheelchairs
and transfer clients to and from bed, see [id. at
44], and as a real estate agent because of the amount of
typing required to draft real estate sales contracts, see
[id. at 55]. Indeed, Ms. Hill testified that
"sometimes writing, typing, [and] grabbing" make
her hand pain worse, and that sleep "is the best thing
for [the pain]" which is why she tries to nap on days
when the pain is the worst. [Id. at 47, 48]. Ms.
Hill also testified that she did not have any issues grooming
herself, though her hair takes longer to "get
done," [id. at 48, 57], but that she avoids
clothes with buttons or zippers because they are too
difficult to manipulate, [id. at 57].
also testified at the hearing. The VE first summarized
Plaintiffs past relevant work to include: a customer service
representative, specific vocational preparation
("SVP") level 5, sedentary; a reservation agent,
SVP level 4, sedentary; an administrative clerk, SVP level 4,
light exertion; a table clerk, SVP level 4, sedentary; and a
realtor, SVP level 5, light exertion. See [#8-2 at
then considered the work an individual could perform who
could perform light work with the additional limitations of
occasionally using hand controls, handling, fingering, and
feeling; frequently reaching in all directions; and no
kneeling, crawling, climbing ladders or scaffolds, or working
at unprotected heights, with dangerous unprotected machinery,
or with vibrating tools. [#8-2 at 59-60]. The VE testified
that this individual could perform only Ms. Hill's
previous work as a customer service representative. [#8-2 at
60]. In addition, the VE testified that, consistent with the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles, this individual could also
perform sedentary jobs as a callout operator and surveillance
system monitor, both SVP level 2 jobs. [Id. at
60]. In response to Plaintiffs counsel's question, the VE
also stated that employers for these jobs would tolerate
"no more than ten percent" of being off task.
[Id. at 61].
December 15, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Hill
not disabled under the Act. [#8-2 at 25]. Plaintiff requested
Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision, which the
Appeals Council denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner [id. at 1-3].
Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner's
final decision in the United States District Court for the
District of Colorado on November 13, 2017, invoking this
court's jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's
final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court is
limited to determining whether the decision adheres to
applicable legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. Berna v. Chater,
101 F.3d 631, 632 (10th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted);
cf. Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th
Cir. 1993) ("[I]f the ALJ failed to apply the correct
legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack
of substantial evidence." (internal citation omitted)).
The court may not reverse an ALJ simply because she 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) (internal
citation omitted). But "[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) (internal
citation omitted). The court may 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 (internal citation
The ALJ's Decision
individual is eligible for DIB benefits under the Act if she
is insured, has not attained retirement age, has filed an
application for DIB, and is under a disability as defined in
the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). Supplemental Security
Income is available to an individual who is financially
eligible, files an application for SSI, and is disabled as
defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382. An individual is
determined to be under a disability only if her
"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. . . ." 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The disabling impairment must
last, or be expected to ...