United States District Court, D. Colorado
BRINTON DANE CASTOLENIA, and CHELSEA KAY SMITH, on behalf of Bridget Castolenia, deceased, Plaintiffs,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.
matter before me is plaintiff's Complaint [#1],
filed May 1, 2018, seeking review of the Commissioner's
decision denying plaintiff's claims for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits
under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 401, et seq. I have jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need
for oral argument. I affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
alleges she is disabled as a result of status post
laminectomies, status post bilateral shoulder fractures,
bicipital tendonitis, mild osteoarthritis of the right hip,
major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, panic
disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. After her
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income benefits were denied, plaintiff
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. This
hearing was held on April 4, 2017. At the time of the
hearing, plaintiff was 52 years old. She has a high school
degree with some college and past relevant work experience as
a medical assistant. She has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since at least February 1, 2012, her amended
alleged date of onset.
found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled
to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security
income benefits. Although the medical evidence established
plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, the judge found
the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any
impairment listed in the social security regulations. The ALJ
determined plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to
perform a reduced range of light work with postural and
environmental limitations and which did not require
production-rate pace work. Because this determination did not
preclude plaintiff's past relevant work as a medical
assistant as it was generally performed, the ALJ found her
not disabled at step four of the sequential evaluation.
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. The
Council affirmed. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal
STANDARD OF REVIEW
person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act only if her physical and/or mental impairments preclude
her from performing both her previous work and any other
“substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “When 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 Social Security 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. 1995).
Commissioner has established a quinquepartite sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment
is “severe.” A “severe impairment”
must significantly limit the claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or
equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix
1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a
listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant can perform her past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional
capacity to perform her past work, the ALJ must decide
whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and
substantial work in the economy. This determination is made
on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also
Williams v. Bowen 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th
Cir. 1988). The claimant has the initial burden of
establishing a disability in the first four steps of this
analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5,
107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). The burden
then shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy.
Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not
disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive
and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 801
(10th Cir. 1991).
of the Commissioner's disability decision is limited to
determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th
Cir. 1992); Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196
(10th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is evidence
a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Brown, 912 F.2d at 1196. It requires
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of the
evidence. Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556
(D. Colo. 1992). “Evidence 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). Further,
“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. 1993). Although a
reviewing court should meticulously examine the record, it
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its discretion for
that of the Commissioner. Id.