United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER AFFIRMING DENIAL OF SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security
Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff Raedell
Bustamante's application for disability benefits.
Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the
reasons that follow, the Court affirms the decision of the
was born in 1966. (Doc. # 11-5 at 124.) She completed one
year of college, and she was most recently employed as a
medical clerk from 2007 to 2015. (Doc. # 11-6 at 172.)
Plaintiff suffers from several health issues including
diabetes mellitus type II, diabetic peripheral neuropathy,
tibial occlusive arterial disease, gastroparesis,
hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, gout, obesity, and
colitis. (Doc. # 11-2 at 17-18.) Plaintiff's last day of
employment was on January 30, 2015. (Id. at 17.)
January 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as
an application for supplemental security income.
(Id.) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged
disability beginning on January 30, 2015. Plaintiff's
claims were initially denied on June 25, 2015. Subsequently,
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on July 15,
2015, which took place on December 15, 2016. The hearing was
conducted by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”),
and Amanda Munzer, an impartial vocational expert, also
appeared at the hearing.
24, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of
her claims for: disability, disability insurance benefits,
and supplemental security income. (Id. at 24.)
Thereafter, Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision
from the Social Security Administration Appeals Council.
However, Plaintiff's request for review was
denied because the Appeals Council concluded that
there was no “basis for changing the [ALJ's]
decision.” (Id. at 1.) Accordingly, the
ALJ's decision became the finial decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. This appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, this Court is
limited to determining “whether the findings are
supported by substantial evidence and whether the Secretary
applied the correct legal standards.” Pacheco v.
Sullivan, 931 F.2d 695, 696 (10th Cir. 1991); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”).
The Supreme Court has defined “substantial
evidence” as “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. of N.Y. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 217 (1938). Substantial evidence is
“more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080,
1084 (10th Cir. 2007). Thus, a decision is not based on
substantial evidence “if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record.” Wall v. Astrue, 561
F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks
reviewing the record to make the substantial evidence
determination, the Court “may not reweigh the evidence
nor substitute [its] judgment for the Secretary's.”
Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir.
1994). In addition, the Court “may not displace the
agency's choice between two fairly conflicting views,
even though the [C]ourt would justifiably have made a
different choice had the matter been before it de
novo.” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quotation marks
and citation omitted). Also, the Court “defer[s] to the
ALJ on matters involving the credibility of witnesses.”
Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir.
“[f]ailure to apply the correct legal standard or to
provide this [C]ourt with a sufficient basis to determine
that appropriate legal principles have been followed is
grounds for reversal.” Byron v. Heckler, 742
F.2d 1232, 1235 (10th Cir. 1984); see also Thompson v.
Sullivan, 987 F.2d 1482, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993).
“There are specific rules of law that must be followed
in deciding whether evidence is substantial in these
disability cases.” Frey v. Bowen, 816 F.2d
508, 512 (10th Cir. 1987).
not every error in evaluating evidence or applying the
correct legal standard warrants reversal or remand.
“Courts may not reverse and remand for failure to
comply with a regulation without first considering whether
the error was harmless.” Bornette v. Barnhart,
466 F.Supp.2d 811, 816 (E.D. Tex. 2006); see also Allen
v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1145 (10th Cir. 2004)
(recognizing that the Tenth Circuit has “specifically
applied [the principle of harmless error] in social security
disability cases” and collecting cases). Harmless error
exists where it is “inconceivable” that a
different administrative conclusion would have been reached
absent the error. Frank v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 618,
622 (5th Cir. 2003).
determine whether a claimant is disabled as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1505, the Social Security Administration
has established a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987). Specifically, the ALJ must determine
whether the claimant: (1) is engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a medically determinable impairment that is
“severe” or a combination of impairments that is
“severe”; (3) has an impairment or combination of
impairments of a severity which meets or is medically equal
to the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the requirements of
her past relevant work; and (5) is able to do any other work
considering her residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If a
determination is made at any of the steps that the claimant
is or is not disabled, “evaluation under a subsequent
step is not necessary.” Williams v. Bowens,
844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988).
instant case, the ALJ performed an extensive analysis of
Plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ's considered Plaintiff's
medical history, opinions from medical professionals,
testimony from the December 15, 2016 hearing, and other
evidence in the record. (Doc. # 11-2 at 17-24.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light
work-subject to various conditions-and that she “is
capable of performing [her] past relevant work as a Medical
Clerk, Medical Assistant, and Home Health Attendant.”