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Thompson v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 5, 2019

MICHAEL THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Nina Y. Wang United States Magistrate Judge

         This civil action arises under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33, for review of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) final decision denying Plaintiff Michael Thompson's (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Thompson”) application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to the Parties' consent [#14], this civil action was referred to this Magistrate Judge for a decision on the merits. See [#22]; 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 REVERSES AND REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         An individual is eligible for DIB benefits under the Act if he is insured, has not attained retirement age, has filed an application for DIB, and is under a disability as defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). An individual is determined to be under a disability only if her “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The disabling impairment must last, or be expected to last, for at least 12 consecutive months. See Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214-15 (2002). Additionally, the claimant must prove she was disabled prior to her date last insured. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1069 (10th Cir. 2007).

         The Commissioner has developed a five-step evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled under the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). These include:

1. Whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
3. Whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or medically equals any listing found at Title 20, Chapter III, Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
4. Whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and
5. Whether the claimant can perform work that exists in the national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (describing the five steps in detail). “The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four of the analysis[, ]” while the Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five. Neilson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir. 1993). “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.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court limits its inquiry to whether substantial evidence supports the final decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. See Vallejo v. Berryhill, 849 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2017). “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, 515 F.3d at 1070 (internal citation omitted); accord Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992) (“Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes mere conclusion.”). “But in making this determination, [the court] cannot reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment for the administrative law judge's.” Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264, 1266 (10th Cir. 2016).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Background

         A. Medical and Non-Medical History

         Mr. Thompson, born May 8, 1968, alleges he became disabled March 10, 2016, at 47 years-of-age, due to severe persistent chronic asthma, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, acid reflux, chronic sinusitis, osteoporosis, cardiomyopathy, and allergies. See [#11-6 at 181; #15 at 6].[1]When Mr. Thompson applied for disability benefits, he did not indicate illiteracy or a learning disability as a condition or conditions contributing to his disability. Rather, he reported that he could read and understand English and he could write more than his name in English, and a face-to-face interview also revealed no observed or perceived difficulties in Plaintiff's ability to read or write. [#11-6 at 177-78, 180]. Nevertheless, on appeal, Mr. Thompson ...


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