United States District Court, D. Colorado
MICHAEL S. HINDS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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 Michael S. Hinds'
(“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Hinds”)
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Pursuant to the Parties' consent
[#12],  this civil action was assigned to 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. After carefully considering the Parties' briefing
[#15; #16; #17], the entire case file, the Administrative
Record, and the applicable case law, this court respectfully
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
case arises from Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI
filed on or about March 3, 2017. [#11-2 at 14; #11-5 at
173-81]. Mr. Hinds is homeless and has been at least since
2011. See [#11-2 at 41; #17 at 2; #11-5 at 174]. He
is 51 years old, single, and has completed two years of
college education. See [#11-2 at 48]. In the decade
before he alleged that he became disabled, Plaintiff worked
various manual labor jobs, including carpentry, plumbing,
electrical, and apartment maintenance work. See
[#11-2 at 52-54; #11-5 at 182-84]. Plaintiff alleges that he
has been disabled since December 1, 2015, due to a
combination of back pain and cluster headaches, and that he
has not worked since 2015. See [#11-2 at 35, 45-46].
applications were denied on May 26, 2017. [#11-4 at 90-97].
Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge on May 30, 2017. [Id. at
110]. Administrative Law Judge Cynthia K. Hale (the
“ALJ”) convened a hearing on September 18, 2017.
[#11-2 at 32].
hearing, Mr. Hinds testified that his back pain is chiefly
responsible for his inability to work. See
[id. at 48]. He testified that, starting at the end
of the year in 2015, his back pain was so severe that he
could not move his legs. See [Id. at 46].
Currently, Mr. Hinds maintains that he is in constant pain,
that sitting or standing in one position for too long will
aggravate the pain, and that to prevent aggravation he must
alternate between sitting and standing often within an hour.
See [id. at 40-42]. Plaintiff testified
that at times when he tries to walk his extremities become
numb. [Id. at 36].
addition to the back pain, Plaintiff testified that he
experiences cluster headaches which prevent him from working.
See [id. at 36]. The cluster headaches
occur about twice a year and appear to be triggered by
seasonal changes in the weather, but they do not have any
other environmental triggers such as light or sound.
[Id. at 44-45]. At their worst, the cluster
headaches leave Mr. Hinds in such pain as to render him
incapacitated. See [id. at 36]. Plaintiff
alleges that he has tried to work on and off since 2015, but
is unable to maintain a job because of his pain.
[Id. at 38-41].
Vocational Expert (the “VE”) also testified at
the hearing. See [Id. at 54-58].
Acknowledging that a person in the following hypothetical
would likely be unable to perform Mr. Hinds' past work,
the ALJ asked the VE to identify if other types of employment
exists which might be available to a such a person who is (1)
limited to light work, (2) would need to alternate between
standing and sitting every 30 minutes while continuing to
work, (3) would only occasionally be able to stoop, crouch,
kneel or crawl, and (4) would need to avoid exposure to
hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights.
[Id. at 55]. The VE testified that such a person
might find work as an officer helper, router, or mail clerk.
See [Id. at 56]. The VE testified that
further limitations, such as the need to take one
fifteen-minute break a day, a need either to leave work early
or have to be absent for more than two days a month, or a
need to be off-task for twenty percent of the day would rule
out all competitive employment. See [Id.]
October 3, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Hinds
not disabled under the Act. See [#11-2 at 25].
Plaintiff requested Appeal 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 1-5]. Plaintiff sought judicial review of
the Commissioner's final decision in the United States
District Court for the District of Colorado on January 26,
2018, invoking this court's jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C.
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);
accord 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). However, “[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 omitted).
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). SSI 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 [s]he is not only
unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering
[her] 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 last,
for at least 12 consecutive months. See Barnhart v.
Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214- 15 (2002). Additionally, the
claimant must prove she was disabled prior to her date last
insured. Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1069.
Commissioner has developed a five-step evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled under the Act. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). See also Williams v.
Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (describing
the five steps in detail). “If a determination can be
made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not
disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not
necessary.” Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. Step
one determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if so, disability benefits are denied.
Id. Step two considers “whether the claimant
has a medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments, ” as governed by the Secretary's
severity regulations. Id.; see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant is unable to show
that her impairments would have more than a minimal effect on
her ability to do basic work activities, she is not eligible
for disability benefits. If, however, the claimant presents
medical evidence and makes the de minimis showing of
medical severity, the decision maker proceeds to Step 3.
Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. Step three
“determines whether the impairment is equivalent to one
of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary
acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful
activity, ” pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
Id. At step four of the evaluation process, the ALJ
must determine a claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”), which defines the maximum amount of work
the claimant is still “functionally capable of doing on
a regular and continuing basis, despite his impairments: the
claimant's maximum sustained work capability.”
Williams, 844 F.2d at 751; see also Id. at