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Martinez v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 19, 2019

EDDIE MARIO MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security [1]

          ORDER

          KRISTEN L. MIX MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court[2] on review of the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefit pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. 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 Plaintiff's Opening Brief [#14] (the “Brief”), Defendant's Response Brief [#15] (“Response”), Plaintiff's Rely Brief [#18] (“Reply”), the Social Security Administrative Record [#11] (“Tr.”), and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for further fact finding.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was born on January 28, 1961. Tr. 167. His past work was as a truck driver, laundry worker, folding machine operator, janitor, degreaser, and fire extinguisher repairer. Tr. 17. He last worked in 2009 as a driver for a laundry business. Tr. 186, 192.

         Plaintiff filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits in December 2014. Tr. 11, 147-55. Plaintiff alleged disability due to gout, problems with swelling of foot and knees, arthritis, and left wrist issues, and alleged an amended disability onset date of May 24, 2013. Tr. 147, 151, 186.

         Plaintiff's applications were denied, Tr. 81-89, and he requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 93-94. A hearing before ALJ William Musseman was held on Plaintiff's claim on March 27, 2017. Tr. 23-35.

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing that he was 56 years old, and that his knees gave him the most problem, with pain and swelling. Tr. 27. He stated that he has pain and arthritis in his shoulders and neck, and problems with his hips. Tr. 29-30. Plaintiff further said he has problems standing; can be on his feet ten to fifteen minutes before he needs to sit down; his knees swell when he is active; and he can only walk three blocks. Tr. 28. Plaintiff testified that he sometimes has to elevate his legs and ice his knees for four to five days to get the swelling down. Tr. 29. He is on medication for pain and gout. Tr. 31.

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a decision dated June 20, 2017. Tr. 11-18. In the sequential evaluation process required by law, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014, and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended onset date of May 24, 2013. Tr. 13. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairment of osteoarthritis in his knees. Tr. 14. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that met or medically equaled the requirements of a Listing. Tr. 14.

         As to residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the capacity “to perform medium work . . . except [Plaintiff] is limited to occasional climbing of ladders and scaffolds, and frequent operation of foot and leg controls.” Tr. 14. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's “medically determined impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirety consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record[.]” Tr. 14-15.

         At step four, the ALJ found with the assistance of a vocational expert that Plaintiff remained able to perform his past relevant work. Tr. 17. Accordingly, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from May 24, 2013, through the date of the decision. Tr. 18. Plaintiff's claim for benefits was therefore denied. Tr. 18.

         The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-4. Thus, the ALJ's decision became final for purposes of judicial review.

         II. 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 economy.”

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 alsoWall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1051 (10th Cir. 2009). The existence of a qualifying disabling impairment must be ...


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