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Colgan v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 1, 2019

CATHY COLGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of Defendant's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. (ECF No. 1.) The parties have fully briefed the matter. (ECF Nos. 16, 17, 18.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, case file, and applicable law. For the reasons stated below, the Court vacates the Commissioner's decision and remands this matter for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her application in October 2015, alleging disability beginning on September 3, 2015. In December 2017, after a hearing at which Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied her claim.

         The ALJ applied the five-step process for evaluating disability claims. See Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). At step one, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar disc disease, status post lumbar decompression and fusion, history of left shoulder arthroscopy, type II diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with left extremity edema, and morbid obesity. At step three, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's physical and mental impairments, considered independently and in combination, did not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment.

         Before reaching step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, subject to limitations. The applicable regulation provides the following definition:

Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). The ALJ further limited Plaintiff's RFC as follows:

[Plaintiff] requires the use of a handheld cane when ambulating, and can carry only small objects of less than 10 pounds in the non-dominant upper extremity when ambulating. [Plaintiff] can frequently reach with the non-dominant left upper extremity. [Plaintiff] can never operate foot controls, can never climb or balance on uneven terrain; and can never stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] can never be exposed to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts. [Plaintiff] cannot operate a motor vehicle as part of work duties.

(ECF No. 10-2 at 21, ¶ 5.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a customer service representative because such work does not require activities precluded by her RFC. Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits without reaching step five.

         The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision final. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by (1) failing to evaluate properly the medical evidence and source opinions, (2) failing to evaluate properly her subjective reports, and (3) finding that she could perform her past relevant work.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Mays v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 569, 571 (10th Cir. 2014). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quotation omitted). To determine whether the substantiality test has been met, the Court meticulously examines the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings, but the Court does not reweigh the evidence or retry the case. Id. “The possibility of drawing two inconsistent ...


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