United States District Court, D. Colorado
DEBORAH A. DEGRADO, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
T. BABCOCK, JUDGE.
appeals from the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) Commissioner's final decision denying
her application for disability insurance benefits, filed
pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-433. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Oral argument would not materially assist me
in the determination of this appeal. After consideration of
the parties' briefs, as well as the administrative
record, I REVERSE and REMAND the Commissioner's final
order for further proceedings.
Statement of the Case
seeks judicial review of SSA's decision denying her
application for disability insurance benefits. Compl., ECF
No. 1. Plaintiff filed this application in January 2016
alleging that her disability began on October 15, 2015.
[Administrative Record (“AR”) 159, 233]
initially denied her application in June 2016. [AR 97] The
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted an
evidentiary hearing on February 22, 2018 and issued a written
ruling on May 16, 2018. [AR 10-79] In that ruling, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff's application on the basis that she was
not disabled because considering her age, education, and work
experience, she had the residual functional capacity to
perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy. [AR 23] The SSA Appeals Council
subsequently denied Plaintiff's administrative request
for review of the ALJ's determination, making SSA's
denial final for the purpose of judicial review. [AR 1-5,
158]; see 20 C.F.R. §404.981. Plaintiff timely
filed her Complaint with this court seeking review of
SSA's final decision. ECF No. 1.
SSA's Five-Step Process for Determining
claimant is “disabled” under Title II of the
Social Security Act if she is unable to “engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). SSA has established a
five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a
claimant is disabled and thus entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R.
one, SSA asks whether the claimant is presently engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” If she is,
benefits are denied and the inquiry stops. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b). At step two, SSA asks whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment”-that is, an impairment or
combination of impairments that “significantly limits
[her] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If she does
not, benefits are denied and the inquiry stops. If she does,
SSA moves on to step three, where it determines whether the
claimant's impairments “meet or equal” one of
the “listed impairments”-impairments so severe
that SSA has determined that a claimant who has them is
conclusively disabled without regard to the claimant's
age, education, or work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d). If not, SSA goes to step four.
four, SSA determines the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”)-that is, what she is still able
to do despite her impairments-and asks whether the claimant
can do any of her “past relevant work” given that
RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If not, SSA goes to the
fifth and final step, where it must show that the
claimant's RFC allows her to do other work in the
national economy in view of her age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). At this step,
SSA's “grid rules” may mandate a finding of
disabled or not disabled without further analysis based on
the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2. The claimant has “the
burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability at
steps one through four.” Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003).
Standard of Review
review concerns only whether SSA's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Vigil v. Colvin, 805
F.3d 1199, 1201 (10th Cir. 2015). With regard to the law,
reversal may be appropriate when SSA fails to apply proper
legal standards. Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951,
954 (10th Cir. 2014). With regard to the evidence, I must
“determine whether the findings of fact . . . are based
upon substantial evidence, and inferences reasonably drawn
therefrom. If they are so supported, they are conclusive upon
the reviewing court and may not be disturbed.”
Truji lo v. Richardson, 429 F.2d
1149, 1150 (10th Cir. 1970). “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). The record must demonstrate that
the ALJ considered all the evidence, but an ALJ is not
required to discuss every piece of evidence. Clifton v.
Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996). I
examine the record as a whole and may not reweigh the
evidence or substitute my judgment for that of the ALJ.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d at 1070.
The ALJ's Ruling
ruling, the ALJ followed the five-step analysis outlined
above. The ALJ concluded under the first step that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her
alleged onset date of October 15, 2015. [AR 15] Under step
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the
“following severe impairments: popliteal artery
aneurysm and repair surgery, chronic peripheral venous
insufficiency with left leg pain due to injury to left tibial