United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER
REID NEUREITER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
government determined that Plaintiff Deborah Fern Rajo is not
disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act.
28.) Ms. Rajo has asked this Court to review that decision.
The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and
both parties have agreed to have this case decided by a U.S.
Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. #13.)
Social Security appeals, the Court reviews the decision of
the administrative law judge ("ALJ") to determine
whether the factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. See Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074,
1075 (10th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence is such
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance." Raymond v. Astrue,
621 F.3d 1269, 1271-72 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation
marks omitted). The Court "should, indeed must, exercise
common sense" and "cannot insist on technical
perfection." Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d
1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court cannot reweigh the
evidence or its credibility. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).
second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequence for
making determinations,  the ALJ found that Ms. Rajo "has
the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease
of the cervical and lumbar spine, and fibromyalgia." (AR
25.) The ALJ then determined that Ms. Rajo "does not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments" in the regulations. (AR 28.) The ALJ found
Plaintiff's obesity, anemia, elbow and hand pain, and
bipolar disorder to be non-severe impairments. (AR 26.)
Because he concluded that Ms. Rajo did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the
listed impairments, the ALJ found that Ms. Rajo has the
following residual functional capacity ("RFC"):
. . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except
the work with frequent posturals, except occasional
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and no exposure to
hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical
parts; no concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, and poor ventilation. Lifting and carrying is limited
to 50 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently.
(AR 29.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Rajo "is capable of
performing past relevant work as an activity therapist,
assistant retail manager, certified nursing assistant, and
receptions." (AR 33.) Alternatively, the ALJ determined
that, given Ms. Rajo's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, she could perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy, including: meat clerk, store
laborer, and courtesy clerk. (AR 35.) The ALJ concluded that
Ms. Rajo "is capable of making a successful adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy." (AR 36.)
Rajo asserts three reversible errors: first, that the ALJ
failed to include mental limitations in the RFC, despite
finding Ms. Rajo has mild limitations in completing
activities of daily living, social functioning, and
concentration, persistence, or pace; second, that the ALJ
failed to give weight to Mr. Rajo's fibromyalgia symptoms
in the RFC analysis; and third, that the ALJ improperly
discounted the opinion of Ms. Rajo's chiropractor, Dr.
Jackson. (Dkt. # 15 at 1.)
Rajo first argues that the ALJ, despite finding that Ms. Rajo
had mild limitations in completing activities of daily
living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence,
or pace, failed to include her mental limitations in the RFC.
Ms. Rajo contends that this was a harmful error that requires
remand for proper consideration of her non-severe mental
impairments. The Court agrees.
Commissioner of Social Security employs a special technique
to evaluate the severity of mental impairments and their
effect on a claimant's ability to work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520a(a), 416.920a(a). In applying the
special technique, the ALJ must first decide whether the
claimant has a medically determinable mental impairment.
Id. §§ 404.1520a(b)(1), 416.920a(b)(1).
Next, the ALJ must rate the degree of the functional
limitation resulting from the claimant's medically
determinable mental impairments in four broad functional
areas: "[u]nderstand, remember, or apply information;
interact with others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace;
and adapt or manage oneself." Id. §§
404.1520a(c)(3), 416.920a(c)(3). The ALJ rates the degree of
limitation as either none, mild, moderate, marked, or
extreme. Id. §§404.1520a(c)(4),
at the first step of the special technique, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Rajo had a medically determinable mental
impairment of bipolar disorder. (AR 26.) At the second step,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Rajo's bipolar disorder would
cause her mild limitations in activities of daily living;
social functioning; and concentration, persistence, or pace.
(AR 27.) He then determined that Ms. Rajo experienced no
episodes of decompensation, noting that she had not been
hospitalized during the relevant period. (Id.) The
ALJ determined that Ms. Rajo's mental impairments were
not severe because they did not cause more than minimal
limitations on her ability to perform basic mental work
stated that his conclusion was supported by the objective
evidence. He noted that in multiples instances, Ms.
Rajo's mood and affect was described as normal, and she
was described was alert, cooperative, well-groomed, and
properly oriented. (Id.) Moreover, the ALJ gave
great weight to the opinion of Dr. Mac Bradley who, after a
2014 consultative examination, diagnosed Ms. Rajo with
bipolar disorder and opined that she was mildly ...