United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Y. WANG MAGISTRATE JUDGE
civil action arises under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401- 33 for
review of the Commissioner of Social Security
Administration's (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) final decision denying Plaintiff
Loretta Castille's (“Plaintiff” or “Ms.
Castille”) application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Social Security
Income Benefits (“SSI”). Pursuant to the
Parties' consent [#13], this civil action was referred to
this Magistrate Judge for a decision on the merits.
See [#19]; 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73;
D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2. Upon review of the Parties'
briefing, the entire case file, the Administrative Record,
and the applicable case law, this court respectfully
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
Loretta Castille first filed applications for SSI and DIB
benefits in May 2012, claiming an alleged disability onset of
August 30, 2010. [#11-3 at 95]. These initial applications were
denied on September 6, 2012, which was affirmed by an
Administrative Law Judge on January 9, 2014. [Id. at
95-101]. Then, in June, 2015, Plaintiff filed the
applications for SSI and DIB benefits underlying this appeal.
[#11-2 at 32]. At the start of the July 5, 2017 hearing
before the ALJ, she orally amended the date of onset of her
disability to October 5, 2015. [Id. at 52].
Plaintiff alleges that her disability began with a fall on
that date which worsened her prior symptoms for diabetic
neuropathy. [Id. at 53]. At the hearing, she claimed
she was disabled due to the combined effects of obesity,
cataracts, diabetic mellitus with neuropathy, and an ankle
sprain/strain. [Id. at 36].
hearing, the ALJ had before her records regarding
Plaintiff's medical history of these conditions-primarily
the diabetic mellitus. Specifically, Plaintiff offered two
main sources of information, the records and treatment notes
of Drs. Costache and Abraham. Dr. Costache has been treating
Plaintiff for years and examined Plaintiff on October 5,
2015, the amended date of onset, and treated her sprained
foot. [#11-8 at 3]. The records from that date indicate that
she was prescribed a specialized boot to help her recover
more quickly and avoid further injury and that it was
anticipated that she would remain in the boot for 2 weeks and
then begin to phase out. [Id. at 7]. On November 20,
2015, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Abraham who reported that
her diabetes mellitus was in “excellent control”
and who opined that “there appears to be no obvious
long-term disability.” [Id. at 10]. Her blood
sugar levels were “doing well.” [Id.].
Dr. Costache reported on November 23, 2015 that
Plaintiff's ankle was improving and that it was time to
begin transitioning out of the boot. [Id. at 15]. On
December 7, 2015, a different doctor-Dr. Matson- reported
that Plaintiff still had pain but that her ankle was
“overall improving.” [Id. at 17].
Plaintiff's recovery from the ankle sprain was long and
uneven, eventually developing into joint disease, but Dr.
Abraham treated Ms. Castille on February 20, 2017 and noted
that she was spending six hours out of the boot and should no
longer require it within seven to ten days of that opinion.
[#11-9 at 41]. Dr. Costache reported that, as of March 2,
2017, Plaintiff's ankle was improving. [#11-10 at 3].
diabetes mellitus is also reported to be well managed. As
noted above, her blood sugar levels were well managed as of
November 20, 2015, and although she reported hyperglycemia
and lightheadedness on January 28, 2016, she had not eaten
that day and felt better by the next day. [#11-8 at 29, 31].
Drs. Abraham and Costache consistently described
Plaintiff's diabetes as “controlled.”
[Id. at 41, 45, 50]. Plaintiff's foot was
regularly debrided from advanced callouses during these
visits, but the debriding process has been sufficient to
stabilize the foot. See, e.g., [id. at 46,
51; #11-10 at 4].
also has cataracts in both eyes. Medical records indicate
that she was “still feel[ing] functional” despite
this diagnosis. [#11-9 at 3]. On July 12, 2016,
Plaintiff's eye exam revealed excellent sight when
corrected with glasses. [Id.]. By the time of this
visit, however, Plaintiff's foot problems had progressed
to joint disease related to her diabetes with related
swelling. [Id. at 6]. Dr. Abraham reported good
control for Plaintiff's diabetes later that July and
again in October. [Id. at 8, 19]. The most recent
record before the court is from Dr. Costache's May 2017
notes reporting that Plaintiff's hypertension and
diabetes were both well controlled. [#11-10 at 9, 12].
underwent a Residual Function Capacity (“RFC”)
from Dr. Kristine Couch from Industrial Rehabilitation
Evaluation services on June 21, 2017. [#11-9 at 77]. Dr.
Couch reported that Plaintiff “constantly”
suffered severe pain sufficient to interfere with even simple
work tasks, couldn't walk more than one city block
without breaks (although she could walk for up to thirty
continuous minutes without resting), and was likely to be
absent from work five days or more a week. [Id. at
77-81]. Dr. Abraham later signed Dr. Couch's RFC report
with some hesitation, noting “It appears that she would
like to get disability but I was not asked to sign disability
paperwork.” [Id. at 15]. Dr. Abraham also
noted that Plaintiff seemed to be confused and unclear about
what she needed the paperwork for. [Id. at 16].
had a hearing on her claim for benefits before an ALJ on July
5, 2017. [#11-2 at 49]. At the hearing, she reported that she
walked to the office, used public transit, went to church,
did her own shopping, and once a week did “about
forty” minutes of volunteer gardening at her church.
[Id. at 69-70, 73, 80]. But Plaintiff's
confusion was marked, sometimes giving inconsistent answers
or not following a short line of questioning. See,
e.g., [id. at 78 (stating she has a hard time
focusing during conversations), 81 (inconsistent answer on
progress to master's degree)].
subsequently found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
[Id. at 33]. She found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with
neuropathy, right ankle sprain/strain, cataracts, and
obesity. [Id. at 36]. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff's hypertension was not a severe condition as it
was controlled with medication. [Id.]. The ALJ also
found that none of Plaintiff's impairments met the
severity benchmarks in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1,
the “Listing of Impairments” (“the
Listing”). [Id. at 36-37]. Finally, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform
light, semiskilled work. [Id. at 37-43]. Ms.
Castille appealed, and the Appeals Council denied review,
making the ALJ's determination final for purposes of
appeal. [Id. at 1]. On August 6, 2018, Plaintiff
filed this action. [#1].
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court is
limited to determining whether the decision adheres to
applicable legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. Berna v. Chater,
101 F.3d 631, 632 (10th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted);
cf. Thompson v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th
Cir. 1993) (“[I]f the ALJ failed to apply the correct
legal test, there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack
of substantial evidence.” (internal citation omitted)).
The court may not reverse an ALJ simply because she may have
reached a different result based on the record; the question
instead is whether there is substantial evidence showing that
the ALJ was justified in her decision. See Ellison v.
Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).
“Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Flaherty v.
Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal
citation omitted). But “[e]vidence 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) (internal
citation omitted). The court may not “reweigh the
evidence or retry the case, ” but must
“meticulously examine the record as a whole, including
anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's
findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has
been met.” Flaherty, 515 F.3d at 1070
(internal citation omitted).
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court liberally
construes her pleadings but may not act as her advocate.
Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 672
(10th Cir. 1998). Indeed, although she is not represented by
counsel, Ms. Castille must still comply with procedural rules
and satisfy substantive law to be entitled to relief. See
Murray v. City of Tahlequah, 312 F.3d 1196, 1199 n.2
(10th Cir. 2008) (observing that a party's pro se status
does not relieve ...