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Dominguez Horton v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 19, 2019

DRENDA MAY DOMINGUEZ HORTON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          N. REID NEUREITER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The government determined that Plaintiff Drenda May Dominguez Horton was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. (AR[2] 21.) Ms. Dominguez has asked this Court to review that decision. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and both parties have agreed to have this case decided by a U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. #15.)

         Standard of Review

         In Social Security appeals, the Court reviews the decision of the administrative law judge (“ALJ) to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074, 1075 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Raymond v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1271-72 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court “should, indeed must, exercise common sense” and “cannot insist on technical perfection.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court cannot reweigh the evidence or its credibility. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).

         Background

         At the second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequence for making determinations, [3] the ALJ found that Ms. Dominguez “has the following severe impairments: labral tear and tendinopathy of the left hip, lumbar spondylosis, obesity, and diabetes with neuropathy.” (AR 14.) Ms. Dominguez's medically determinable impairments of upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to acute ulcers; alcohol abuse with inactive cirrhosis of the liver with ascites; reactive airway disease; major depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and alcohol dependence, in remission, were found to not be severe impairments. (Id.)

         The ALJ then determined at step three that Ms. Dominguez “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments” in the regulations. (AR 15- 16.) Because he concluded that Ms. Dominguez did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Ms. Dominguez has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . [Ms. Dominguez] has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) meaning she can lift and carry up to ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk for two hours in an eight-hour day; she can sit for six hours in an eight-hour day; she needs a cane for standing and walking; she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; and she can occasionally climb ramps or stairs.

(AR 16.)

         The ALJ concluded that Ms. Dominguez was capable of performing past relevant work as an accounts payable coordinator. (AR 21.) Accordingly, Ms. Dominguez was deemed not to have been under a disability from February 1, 2016, through June 5, 2018, the date of the decision. (Id.)

         Analysis

         Ms. Dominguez argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because his finding that Ms. Dominguez was not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Ms. Dominguez contends that the ALJ failed to adequately weigh the medical evidence and opinions and did not properly consider the combined effects of her impairments, including those determined to be nonsevere. Ms. Dominguez also argues that the ALJ improperly discounted her subjective complaints. Ms. Dominguez asks the Court to remand the case for an immediate payment of benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Ms. Dominguez argues that the ALJ's conclusion that her mental impairments were not severe is unreasonable and unsupported by the record. Ms. Dominguez challenges the ALJ's decision to give only minimal weight to the medical opinions of the two providers who specifically addressed her mental impairments: LeAnna DeAngelo, Ph.D., and Mark Suyeishi, Psy.D. (AR 20.) The Court agrees with Ms. Dominguez.

         In evaluating Ms. Dominguez's mental impairments at step two, the ALJ considered whether the four areas of functioning, known as the “paragraph B” criteria, were satisfied. (AR 14.) To satisfy the “paragraph B” criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least one extreme or two marked limitations ...


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