United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REVERSING DISABILITY DECISION AND REMANDING TO
E. Blackburn United States District Judge.
matter before me is plaintiff's
Complaint [#1],  filed June 17, 2019, seeking
review of the Commissioner's decision denying
plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et
seq. I have jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The matter has been fully briefed, obviating the need
for oral argument. I reverse and remand.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
alleges she is disabled as a result of an affective disorder,
carpal tunnel syndrome, disorders of the cervical spine and
left shoulder joint, and obesity. After her applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge. This hearing was held on
February 11, 2013. On appeal of the ALJ's unfavorable
decision, the Commissioner moved to remand the case for
further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Following remand, a second hearing was held on March
5, 2018. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 48 years
old. She has a high school education and past relevant work
experience as nurse assistant. She has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 9, 2007, her
alleged date of onset. The ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled
and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits
or supplemental security income benefits. Although the
medical evidence established plaintiff suffered from severe
impairments, the judge concluded the severity of those
impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in
the social security regulations. Other impairments were found
to be non-severe. The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform a simple, light work with
postural and non-exertional limitations. Although this
finding precluded plaintiff's past relevant work, the
judge determined there were other jobs existing in sufficient
numbers in the national and local economies she could
perform. He therefore found plaintiff not disabled at step
five of the sequential evaluation. Plaintiff appealed this
decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed.
Plaintiff then filed this action in federal court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act only if her physical and/or mental impairments preclude
her from performing both her previous work and any other
“substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). “When 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 Social Security 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. 1995).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment
is “severe.” A “severe impairment”
must significantly limit the claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or
equals in severity certain impairments described in Appendix
1 of the regulations.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a
listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant can perform his past work despite any limitations.
5. If the claimant does not have the residual functional
capacity to perform her past work, the ALJ must decide
whether the claimant can perform any other gainful and
substantial work in the economy. This determination is made
on the basis of the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v). See also
Williams v. Bowen 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th
Cir. 1988). The claimant has the initial burden of
establishing a disability in the first four steps of this
analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5,
107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). The burden
then shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy.
Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not
disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive
and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 801
(10th Cir. 1991).
of the Commissioner's disability decision is limited to
determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standard and whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th
Cir. 1992); Brown v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 1194, 1196
(10th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is evidence
a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Brown, 912 F.2d at 1196. It requires
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of the
evidence. Hedstrom v. Sullivan, 783 F.Supp. 553, 556
(D. Colo. 1992). “Evidence is not substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes
mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Further,
“if the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal test,
there is a ground for reversal apart from a lack of
substantial evidence.” Thompson v. Sullivan,
987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993). Although a
reviewing court should meticulously examine the record, it
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its discretion for
that of the Commissioner. Id.
previously have rejected plaintiff's suggestion that the
ALJ has any burden at step five to explain why he finds a
number of alternative jobs significant when, as here, they
plainly are. As I have told her counsel before,
“[p]laintiff has identified no authority which requires
the ALJ to give the detailed, factor-by-factor explanation
she suggests is necessary, except in the circumstances not
relevant here.” Garcia v. Saul, 2019 WL
3802105 at *4 n.6 (D. Colo. Aug. 13, 2019). Indeed, as I have
found previously, the law is plainly to the
contrary.See Id. (quoting Raymond v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1274 n.2 (10th Cir.
2009) (“‘Trimiar [v. Sullivan,
966 F.2d 1326 (10th Cir. 1992)] does not hold that
. . . a court ...