United States District Court, D. Colorado
KRISTEN L. MIX, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record [#8],  filed December 4, 2017, in
support of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] seeking review of
the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security
income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On
January 16, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#15] (the
“Brief”). In lieu of filing a Response to the
Opening Brief, Defendant filed a Motion to Remand for
Further Administrative Proceedings Pursuant to Sentence Four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) [#14] (the
“Motion”). Plaintiff filed a Response [#15] in
opposition to the Motion, and Defendant filed a Reply [#17].
As the Senior Judge noted before reassignment of this case to
the undersigned, the issues raised in the Motion [#14] are
“sufficiently intertwined with the merits of the
underlying controversy” that both should be decided
together. See Order [#18]. The Court has
jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision
under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). The Court
has reviewed the entire case file and the applicable law and
is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set
forth below, the Motion [#14] is GRANTED,
and the decision of the Commissioner is
REVERSED and REMANDED.
Factual and Procedural Background
alleges that she has been disabled since January 11, 2012.
Tr. 10. On October 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed an
application for supplemental security income under Title XVI.
Tr. 10. On October 9, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 20.
determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”) since October 7, 2014,
the application date. Tr. 12. The ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffers from three severe impairments: (1) history of left
ankle fracture in January 2012, (2) anxiety disorder, and (3)
organic mental disorder. Tr. 12. However, the ALJ also found
that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments which meets or medically equals “the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926).” Tr. 12. The ALJ next concluded that
Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with the following
abilities and limitations:
[D]uring an eight-hour workday, the claimant can sit for a
total of six hours, and stand and/or walk for a combined
total of four hours; the claimant can frequently balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; the claimant must avoid more
than occasional exposure to extreme cold; the claimant cannot
work at unprotected heights or around fast moving machinery;
the claimant can perform work that can be learned in up to
three months' time; and can tolerate occasional contact
with coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
Tr. 14. Based on the RFC and the testimony of an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had no past relevant work, but found that there are
jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national
economy which Plaintiff can perform, including the
representative occupations of assembler of small products,
mail room clerk, and office helper. Tr. 18-19. The ALJ
therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step five of the
sequential evaluation. Tr. 20. The ALJ's decision has
become the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of
judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
to the Act:
[T]he Social Security Administration is authorized to pay
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income to persons who have a “disability.” A
person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such
benefits, “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
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B)). Under the applicable legal standard, a
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(a); see also Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a)). The existence of a qualifying
disabling impairment must be demonstrated by “medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic”
findings. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 423(d)(5)(A).
a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social
Security [Act] requires the [Commissioner] to consider the
combined effects of the impairments in making a disability
determination.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d
1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(C)). However, the mere existence of a severe
impairment or combination of impairments does not require a
finding that an individual is disabled within the meaning of
the Act. To be disabling, the claimant's condition must
be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial
gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months.
See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir.
Court reviews a final decision by the Commissioner by
examining the administrative record and determining
“whether the [ALJ's] factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). However,
the Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.”
Harper v. Colvin, 528 Fed.Appx. 887, 890 (10th Cir.
2013) (quoting Barnett v. Apfel, 231 F.3d 687, 689
(10th Cir. 2000)). In other words, the Court does not
reexamine the issues de novo. Sisco v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir.
1993). Thus, even when some evidence could support contrary
findings, the Court “may not displace the agency's
choice between two fairly conflicting views, ” even if
the Court may have “made a different choice had the
matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v.
Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).