United States District Court, D. Colorado
Kristen L. Mix, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record [#16],  filed June 8,
2018, in support of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] seeking
review of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance
benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and for
supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI
of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On July 18, 2018,
Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#20] (the
“Brief”), and Defendant filed a Response [#21] in
opposition. No. reply was filed. The Court has jurisdiction
to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). The Court has
reviewed the entire case file and the applicable law and is
sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set
forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is
alleges that she became disabled at the age of sixty-one on
March 15, 2013. Tr. 10, 77. On July 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II
and for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Tr. 10.
On October 5, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 20.
determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Act through December 31, 2016, and that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”) since March 15, 2013, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 12. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from two
severe impairments: (1) hepatitis C, and (2) history of head
trauma with surgical alleviation of hematoma. Tr. 12.
However, the ALJ also found that these impairments,
individually or in combination, do not meet or medically
equal “the severity of one of the listed impairments in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).”
Tr. 15. The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
the full range of light work. Tr. 16. Based on the RFC and
the testimony of an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
perform her past relevant work as an accountant. Tr. 19. He
therefore found Plaintiff not disabled at step four of the
sequential evaluation. Tr. 20. The ALJ's decision has
become the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of
judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
Pursuant to the Act:
[T]he Social Security Administration is authorized to pay
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income to persons who have a “disability.” A
person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such
benefits, “only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B)). Under the applicable legal standard, a
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(a); see also Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a)). The existence of a qualifying
disabling impairment must be demonstrated by “medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic”
findings. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 423(d)(5)(A).
a claimant has one or more severe impairments the Social
Security [Act] requires the [Commissioner] to consider the
combined effects of the impairments in making a disability
determination.” Campbell v. Bowen, 822 F.2d
1518, 1521 (10th Cir. 1987) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(C)). However, the mere existence of a severe
impairment or combination of impairments does not require a
finding that an individual is disabled within the meaning of
the Act. To be disabling, the claimant's condition must
be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial
gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months.
See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir.
Court reviews a final decision by the Commissioner by
examining the administrative record and determining
“whether the [ALJ's] factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2010). However,
the Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.”
Harper v. Colvin, 528 Fed.Appx. 887, 890 (10th Cir.
2013) (quoting Barnett v. Apfel, 231 F.3d 687, 689
(10th Cir. 2000)). In other words, the Court does not
reexamine the issues de novo. Sisco v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 10 F.3d 739, 741 (10th Cir.
1993). Thus, even when some evidence could support contrary
findings, the Court “may not displace the agency's
choice between two fairly conflicting views, ” even if
the Court may have “made a different choice had the
matter been before it de novo.” Oldham v.
Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 2007).
Social Security Administration uses a five-step framework to
determine whether a claimant meets the necessary conditions
to receive Social Security benefits. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden
of proof at steps one through four, and if the claimant fails
at any of these steps, consideration of any subsequent step
or steps is unnecessary. Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (“If a determination can be
made at any of the steps that a claimant is or is not
disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not
necessary.”). The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987).
one requires the ALJ to determine whether a claimant is
“presently engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052 (quoting
Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1142 (10th Cir.
2004)). If not, the ALJ considers at step two whether a
claimant has “a medically severe impairment or
impairments.” Id. “An impairment is
severe under the applicable regulations if it significantly
limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to perform
basic work activities.” Wall, 561 F.3d at 1052
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521). Next, at step three, the
ALJ considers whether a claimant's medically severe
impairments are equivalent to a condition “listed in
the appendix of the relevant disability regulation, ”
i.e., the “Listings.” Wall, 561
F.3d at 1052 (quoting Allen, 357 F.3d at 1142).
“If a claimant's impairments are not equivalent to
a listed impairment, the ALJ must consider, at step four,
whether a claimant's impairments prevent [him or her]
from performing [his ...