United States District Court, D. Colorado
JENNIFER M. AGUILAR, Plaintiff,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW
William J. Martinez United States District Judge.
a Social Security benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff Jennifer M. Aguilar
(“Aguilar”) challenges the final decision of
Defendant, the Social Security Administration
(“Administration”), denying her application for
supplemental security income. The denial was affirmed by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who ruled that
Aguilar was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. This appeal followed.
reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is vacated
and this case is remanded to the Administration for further
proceedings consistent with this order.
was born in 1981 and was 33 years old on the alleged onset
date of June 17, 2014. (Administrative Record
(“R.”) [ECF Nos. 12 & 14] at
Her highest level of educational achievement was eighth
grade. (R. at 90.) In the fifteen years preceding the alleged
onset date, she worked as a customer service representative
or telemarketer. (R. at 39-40, 96.)
applied for supplemental security income on June 17,
2014. She claimed that she is disabled due to
chronic back pain, bipolar disorder, asthma, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety, and
stress. (R. at 86.) Her application was denied on October 16,
2014. (R. at 98.) She requested and received a hearing in
front of an ALJ, Jennifer Fellabaum. (R. at 33, 104.) That
hearing took place on August 1, 2016. (R. at 33.) On
September 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in
accordance with the Administration's five-step sequential
one, the ALJ found that Aguilar had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 17, 2014. (R. at 15.)
two, the ALJ found that Aguilar “has the following
severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease (DDD);
obesity; depressive disorders, NOS; and panic
three, the ALJ found that Aguilar's impairments, while
severe, did not meet or medically equal any of the
“listed” impairments in the Social Security
regulations. (R. at 16.)
proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Aguilar's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ
concluded that Aguilar has the RFC
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except
that she can occasionally bend, squat, stoop, kneel, crouch,
or crawl; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and
should not be exposed to unprotected heights or hazardous
machinery. Additionally, the claimant can perform simple,
routine tasks; and should have only occasional interaction
with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.
(R. at 17.) Then, at step four, the ALJ concluded that
Aguilar's RFC precludes her from returning to her past
relevant work. (R. at 25.)
five, the ALJ found that Aguilar's RFC permits her to
work as a mail clerk, an electronics worker, and an
assembler. (R. at 26.)
the ALJ found that Aguilar was not entitled to Social
Security benefits. (Id.) Aguilar appealed to the
Social Security Appeals Council, which denied review. (R. at
1.) Aguilar then filed this action seeking review of the
ALJ's September 8, 2016 decision. (ECF No. 1.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews the Administration's decision to determine
whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d
1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence is the
amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id.
“It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084.
Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record. Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005). In reviewing the
Administration's decision, the Court may neither reweigh
the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the
agency. Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 615, 621 (10th
Cir. 2006). “On the other hand, 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.
challenges focus entirely on the mental limitations stated in
the ALJ's RFC, and particularly the ALJ's conclusion
that Aguilar “should have only occasional interaction
with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.” (R. at
17.) Aguilar reports experiencing debilitating panic attacks
multiple times per day (see R. at 40-45, 51-56), and
the ALJ was required to decide how those panic attacks affect
her ability to interact with others at work. Aguilar believes
that “occasional interaction”-with coworkers
particularly-seriously overstates her abilities.
“Occasional” means up to one-third of a workday.
Dictionary of Occupational Titles, app'x C, pt.
IV, available at https://
occupationalinfo.org/appendxc1.html (last accessed Dec. 18,
2018). At the ALJ hearing, a vocational expert testified that
jobs exist for a person with the ability to interact with
coworkers occasionally, but that no jobs exist for the same
person if he or she could interact with coworkers no more
than 5% of the workday. Accordingly, the question of
Aguilar's ability to interact with coworkers is central.
had four medical source statements to draw upon and/or
reconcile in reaching the conclusion that Aguilar can
interact with coworkers for up to one-third of a workday.
Those statements, and the ...