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Riddle v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 5, 2019

JAMES D. RIDDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          N. Reid Neureiter United States Magistrate Judge

         The government determined that Plaintiff James D. Riddle was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act for the period from December 1, 2021 through August 9, 2018, the date of the decision. AR[2] 21 Mr. Riddle 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. #16.

         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 Mr. Riddle “has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and left upper extremity epicondylitis and cubital tunnel syndrome.” AR 14. The ALJ determined that Mr. Riddle had the following non-severe impairments: cervical and thoracic degenerative disc disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, headaches, and depressive disorder. AR 15.

         The ALJ then determined at step three that Mr. Riddle “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 16. Because he concluded that Mr. Riddle did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that Mr. Riddle has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . the claimant [Mr. Riddle] has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except that the claimant can occasionally bend, squat, and kneel. He can occasionally do over chest level work.

(AR 17.)

         The ALJ concluded that Mr. Riddle was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 19. At step five, the ALJ found that, considering Mr. Riddle's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including addressing clerk, final assembler, and surveillance system monitor. AR 20. Accordingly, Mr. Riddle was deemed not to have been under a disability from the alleged onset date of December 1, 2012, through August 9, 2018, the date of the decision. AR 21.

         Analysis

         Mr. Riddle argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and the matter remanded for a rehearing because he erred as a matter of law by failing to apply the de minimis Step 2 standard to determine that Mr. Riddle's headaches were not a severe impairment, and failing to include any headache related limitations in the RFC. Mr. Riddle also argues that the ALJ's credibility finding is generally defective. For the reasons outline below, the Court agrees that the ALJ did not properly address all the evidence relating to Mr. Riddle's headaches.

         I. Mr. Riddle's Headaches

         Mr. Riddle argues that the ALJ should have considered his headaches as a severe impairment because he made a more than de minimis showing that his headaches had a limiting effect on his ability to work. However, the ALJ found that Mr. Riddle had other impairments that were severe, which means that even if it was error to determine that Mr. Riddle's ...


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