United States District Court, D. Colorado
JEANETTE R. GRUENBERGER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
E. Blackburn United States District Judge
matter before me is plaintiff's
Complaint [#1],  filed May 14, 2018, seeking
review of the Commissioner's decision denying
plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under
Title II 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 affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
alleges she is disabled as a result of degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, epiphora,  a wrist
impairment, adjustment disorder, and post-traumatic stress
disorder. After her application for disability insurance
benefits was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge. That hearing was held on February
22, 2017. At the time of this hearing, plaintiff was 53 years
old. She has a high school education and past relevant work
experience as a cashier and a pharmacy technician. She has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 18,
2013, her alleged date of onset.
found plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled
to disability insurance benefits. Although the evidence
established plaintiff's lumbar impairment was severe, the
judge concluded the severity of that impairment did not meet
or equal any impairment listed in the social security
regulations. Plaintiff's other alleged impairments were
found to be non-severe. The ALJ found plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work
with certain postural restrictions. Because that conclusion
did not preclude plaintiff's past relevant work as a
pharmacy technician, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled at
step four 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 quinquepartite 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 his 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(b)-(f). See also Williams v.
Bowen844 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 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 ...