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Darilek v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Alaska

September 16, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




Claimant, Stephen Darilek, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income which Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denied. Darilek has exhausted his administrative remedies and seeks relief from this Court, arguing that the Commissioner’s decision that he is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Darilek seeks a remand for benefits or, in the alternative, a remand for further consideration by the ALJ. Docket 1. Specifically, Claimant requests that the Court “remand the cause for rehearing so that the ALJ may (1) take testimony regarding the particulars of Darilek’s performance of work under special conditions, and (2) consider whether Darilek should be awarded benefits from the alleged date of onset until the date when his work under special conditions led to earnings above the SGA threshold.” Docket 11 at 24.

Darilek has filed an opening brief on the merits, construed by this Court as a motion for summary judgment. Defendant opposes, arguing the denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Darilek has replied. Docket nos. 11, 15, and 16. For the reasons set forth below, Darilek’s Motion for Summary Judgment at Docket 11 is GRANTED and this matter is REMANDED for further consideration.


The findings of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) or Commissioner of Social Security regarding any fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.[1] A decision to deny benefits will not be overturned unless it either is not supported by substantial evidence or is based upon legal error.[2] “Substantial evidence” has been defined by the United States Supreme Court as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[3]Such evidence must be “more than a mere scintilla,” but also “less than a preponderance.”[4] In making its determination, the Court considers the evidence in its entirety, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the Commissioner’s conclusion.[5] If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ’s conclusion must be upheld.[6]


The Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for the payment of disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) to people who have contributed to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability.[7] In addition, supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) may be available to individuals who are age 65 or over, blind or disabled, but who do not have insured status under the Act.[8] Disability is defined in the Social Security Act as follows:

[I]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.[9]

The Act further provides:

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), “work which exists in the national economy” means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.[10]

The Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining disability. Claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.[11] The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.[12] The steps, and the ALJ’s findings in this case, are as follows:

Step 1. Determine whether the claimant is involved in “substantial gainful activity. The ALJ concluded that the Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January of 2011, but that he applied for and collected unemployment benefits throughout 2011. Tr. 22.

Step 2. Determine whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. A severe impairment significantly limits a claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities and does not consider age, education, or work experience. The severe impairment or combination of impairments must satisfy the twelve-month duration requirement.

The ALJ found Claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; coccydynia; status post left hip arthroscopy with femoral head-neck osteochondroplasty. Tr. 22.

Step 3. Determine whether the impairment is the equivalent of a number of listed impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, that are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. If the impairment is the equivalent of one of the listed impairments and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If not, the evaluation goes on to the fourth step. The ALJ concluded Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment. Tr. 25. The ALJ specifically addressed ...

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