United States District Court, D. Colorado
LINDA J. COX, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DISABILITY
S. Krieger Senior United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Linda J.
Cox's (“Ms. Cox”) Complaint (#
1), filed May 4, 2018, seeking review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's (the
“Commissioner”) final decision denying her claim
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. Having
considered all of the documents, including the record (#
11), the Court now finds and concludes as
Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision
of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. Cox
filed an application for disability insurance benefits under
the Social Security Act on January 7, 2015. On February 27,
2015, the state agency denied her claim. She requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), who issued an unfavorable decision dated
April 18, 2017. Ms. Cox appealed to the Appeals Council,
which denied her request for review, making the ALJ's
determination the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Cox
timely appealed to this Court, which reviews the ALJ's
decision as the Commissioner's final denial of benefits.
Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir.
Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates
as necessary in its analysis below. Ms. Cox alleges she is
disabled as a result of arthritis in her left ankle and hip,
damage to her left knee, flat feet, a bunion on her left
foot, seasonal allergies and sciatica. (# 11-6 at
133). Ms. Cox was born in 1971. She was 41 years old
at the alleged onset of her disability in September 2012.
(# 11-2 at 50). The record reflects she has
completed two years of college and has past relevant work
experience in customer service and customer service
supervision. (#11-2 at 43-44; #11-6). She
has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
September 1, 2012 (her alleged date of onset) due to
excruciating pain in her feet and ankle that prevented her
from walking and generally performing her work duties.
(# 11-2 at 32; #11-6 at 133).
summarized by the ALJ and further detailed below, Ms.
Cox's relevant medical history includes treatments for
degenerative joint disease, pain, and swelling in her left
ankle. (#11-7 at 183; #11-7 at 222; # 11-11 at
574). Indeed, the ALJ found Ms. Cox to have a severe
impairment of degenerative joint disease in her left ankle
and noted that “examinations show some edema.”
(# 11-2 at 22). In September 2015, Ms. Cox
began treating with Dr. Jan Dunn M.D. Dr. Dunn referred Ms.
Cox to physical therapy and a chiropractor for her
“chronic [left] ankle pain.” (# 11-11 at
538-543). As part of her treatment plan, Ms. Cox
routinely attended water-based physical therapy, repeatedly
saw a chiropractor, and received massage therapy to alleviate
her pain. (# 11-11 at 37-38, 500, 514-515).
Based on her treatment history of Ms. Cox, on October 28,
2016, Dr. Dunn opined that Ms. Cox can lift ten pounds, can
sit for four hours per day and stand for up to two, and needs
to elevate her foot above her heart level for fifteen minutes
each hour due to swelling. (# 11-681-82).
hearing before the ALJ held on April 4, 2017, Ms. Cox briefly
testified that her past work was as a customer service
representative and a customer service representative
supervisor. (# 11 at 43-44). No. follow up
questions were asked, and Ms. Cox provided no further details
about her past relevant work. Based on this testimony, the
vocational expert found Ms. Cox's past relevant work in
customer service was properly characterized as
“sedentary and skilled.” (# 11 at
45). In response to the ALJ's hypothetical
question, the vocational expert concluded that an individual
with the restrictions set forth in the ALJ's RFC finding,
would be able to perform customer service or customer service
supervisor jobs. (# 11 at 46).
determine disability, the ALJ analyzed this case pursuant to
the sequential five-step inquiry. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); see also
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1998)
(explaining the five steps in detail). At step one, the ALJ
found Ms. Cox had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since “September 1, 2012 through her date last insured
of December 31, 2016.” (# 11-2 at 15).
two, the ALJ found that Ms. Cox “had the following
severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, left ankle;
obesity.” (11-2 at 15). At step three,
the ALJ found Ms. Cox did not have any impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity
of a listed impairment. (# 11-2 at 19). The
ALJ then assessed Ms. Cox's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) and found that Ms. Cox had the RFC to
perform sedentary work with the limitation that she should
never “use foot or leg controls with the left lower
extremity.” (# 11-2 at 19-20). In
crafting Ms. Cox's RFC, the ALJ gave “minimal
weight” to Dr. Dunn's opinion. (# 11-2 at
22). At step four, the ALJ determined Ms. Cox was
capable of performing her past relevant work as a customer
service representative and a customer service representative
supervisor. (# 11-2 at 22-23). The ALJ
therefore found that Ms. Cox was not disabled as defined by
the Social Security Act, and the ALJ's analysis ended at
raises three issues on appeal: (1) Whether the ALJ improperly
evaluated the opinion of Dr. Dunn, Ms. Cox's treating
physician; (2) Whether the ALJ's RFC finding is supported
by the evidence; and (3) Whether the ALJ improperly assessed
Ms. Cox's past relevant work.