United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW
WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on review of Defendant
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Andrew M.
Saul's (“the Commissioner's”) decision
denying Plaintiff Jennifer Elaine Hawkes'
(“Plaintiff's”) application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income.
Plaintiff filed an opening brief on May 3, 2019 (ECF No. 15),
Defendant filed a response on May 28, 2019 (ECF No. 18), and
Plaintiff filed a reply on June 9, 2019 (ECF No. 19). For the
reasons set forth below, Defendant's decision to deny
Plaintiff's application for social security benefits is
vacated, and this case is remanded for further proceedings.
Jennifer Elaine Hawkes was born in November 1985 (ECF No.
11-3 at 4), and was 26 years old at the alleged
disability-onset date of March 15, 2013 (ECF No. 11-13 at 1).
Plaintiff completed high school and two college classes (ECF
No. 11-2 at 36-37), and worked part-time for several years as
a server (id. at 47). Plaintiff initially filed for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income on November 18, 2014, alleging the following disabling
medical conditions: musculoskeletal disorder of neck; bipolar
with psychotic features; anxiety; post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”); attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”); fibromyalgia;
chronic pain syndrome; obsessive-compulsive disorder
(“OCD”); insomnia; and hypersomnia. (ECF No. 11-3
at 4-5.) On April 28, 2015, the Commissioner made an initial
determination that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id.
hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) was held on November 10, 2015. (ECF No.
11-2 at 31.) On December 28, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff to
be “not disabled” (id. at 12), and the
Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied
review of that decision (id. at 2). That decision
was appealed to this Court, which on November 3, 2017,
vacated the decision of the Commissioner and remanded for
further proceedings. (ECF No. 11-14 at 62.) Pursuant to the
Court's order, the same ALJ conducted a second hearing on
July 24, 2018. (ECF No. 11-13 at 1.) The ALJ again
determined that Plaintiff is not disabled (ECF No. 11-13),
and Plaintiff again asks the Court to review the ALJ's
record reflects that Plaintiff has a long history of mental
health impairments. When she was 12 years old, she began
cutting herself. (ECF No. 11-9 at 90.) At 15, she was
diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Id. at 78.) After
being raped at 17, she began suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder. (Id. at 78.) After the birth of her
two children, she began suffering from postpartum depression.
(Id. at 78.) She continues to suffer from depression
and paranoia, and additionally reports that she has
intermittent auditory, visual, and command hallucinations.
(ECF No. 11-13 at 53.) She has also been diagnosed with
anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder. (ECF No. 11-9 at 78.)
addition, Plaintiff suffers from serious physical ailments.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic pain
syndrome. (ECF No. 11-21 at 40.) She has also been diagnosed
with degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a decision dated
September 26, 2018. (ECF No. 11-13.) In the sequential
evaluation process required by law,  the ALJ found at step one
that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through March 31, 2018, and that she had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15,
2013, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 13.)
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: fibromyalgia/chronic pain syndrome, bipolar
disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, PTSD, and OCD.
(Id. at 13.) At step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Id. at 13.)
the residual-functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ
found as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she requires work which is unskilled, with
an SVP 1 or 2. This work should involve no more than routine
tasks and simple decision-making without close proximity to
coworkers or supervisors (meaning she cannot function as a
member of a team).
She is limited to minimal to no direct contact with the
public. She can lift and/or carry ten pounds frequently and
twenty pounds occasionally. She can stand or walk with normal
breaks for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. She
can sit with normal breaks for a total of six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She can perform pushing and pulling
motions with the upper extremities within the weight
restrictions given. She can frequently climb ramps and
stairs, but occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
She [can] frequently crawl.
(Id. at 14-15.)
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have any
past relevant work. At step five, taking into account
Plaintiff's age (26 at the alleged onset date),
education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national and regional economies that Plaintiff can perform.
(Id. at 26.) Based on the hearing testimony from a
vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could
perform such jobs as “assembler of small
products” (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
[“DOT”] # 706.684-022), “cleaner”
(DOT # 323.687-014), and “routing clerk/mail
sorter” (DOT # 222.687-022). (Id. at 27.) The
ALJ accordingly found that Plaintiff “has not been
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
” from the alleged onset date of March 15, 2013 through
the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 27.)
Court's review of a determination that a claimant is not
disabled is limited to determining whether the record
contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health
and Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir.
1992). “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.”
Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir.
2005). “Evidence is not substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence or constitutes mere
conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d
1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The Court must
“meticulously examine the record as a whole, including
anything that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's
findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has
been met.” Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1262. However,
the Court “may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute
[its] judgment” for the Commissioner's. Glass
v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994).
seeks vacatur of the Commissioner's decision on three
grounds: (1) the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's
statements regarding her symptoms were not consistent with
the evidence was not based on substantial evidence; (2) the
ALJ's reasons for giving little weight to the opinions of
treating nurses Mark Jankelow and Sandra Yaney were not based
on substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ erred in failing to
address certain third-party statements. (ECF No. 15 at 1-2.)
Because the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision
should be vacated on the basis of the second ground,
Plaintiff's remaining issues will not be addressed.