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Opitz v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 28, 2019

CAROL S. OPITZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge

         This is a social security benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Carol S. Opitz (“Opitz”) challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Social Security Administration (“Administration”), denying her application for disability insurance benefits. The denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who ruled that Opitz was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. This appeal followed.

         For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision denying Opitz's application for disability insurance benefits is vacated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Opitz was born in 1953, and was 61 years old on the alleged disability onset date of July 24, 2015. (Administrative Record (“R.”) (ECF No. 10) at 73.) In the fifteen years preceding the alleged onset date, Opitz worked at Safeway as a deli manager, a cashier, and a “food clerk.” (R. at 53-55, 83.)

         Opitz applied for disability insurance benefits on September 2, 2015. (R. at 146-52.) She claimed that she is disabled due to rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, spondyolisthesis, connective tissue disease, trochanteric bursitis, osteoarthritis, and diabetes. (R. at 180.) Her application was denied on November 16, 2015. (R. at 72.) She requested and received a hearing in front of an ALJ, Kathryn D. Burgchardt. (R. at 92-96, 107.) That hearing took place on May 18, 2017. (R. at 37.) On August 29, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process.[2] (R. at 13-29.)

         At step one, the ALJ found that Opitz had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 24, 2015. (R. at 18.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that Opitz “has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, diabetes mellitus, bursitis, and obesity.” (R. at 18.)

         At step three, the ALJ found that Opitz's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of any of the “listed” impairments in the Social Security regulations. (R. at 19-20.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Opitz's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ concluded that Opitz had the RFC

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that [Opitz] can push or pull within the light work weight restrictions. [Opitz] also should avoid working around heights, machinery, and should avoid extreme cold. Furthermore, [Opitz] can occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.

(R. at 20.) Then, at step four, the ALJ concluded that Opitz could perform her past relevant work as a customer service representative. (R. at 23.) Therefore, the ALJ did not proceed to step five.

         Accordingly, the ALJ found that Opitz was not entitled to disability insurance benefits because she had not been under a disability from July 24, 2015 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 24.) Opitz appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council (R. at 143-45), which denied review (R. at 1). Opitz then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's August 29, 2017 decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ...


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