Chapo v. Astrue, No. 11-1455 (10th Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff Lisa R. Chapo appealed a district court's order upholding the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for disability and supplemental security income benefits. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied benefits at the last step of the five-step process for determining disability. At step five the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled because, "[c]onsidering [her] age, education [high school], work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [she] can perform," namely the jobs of appointment clerk, escort vehicle driver, and office helper identified by the vocational expert (VE) who testified at the evidentiary hearing. On appeal to the Appeals Council, Plaintiff challenged the ALJ’s decision in several respects, in particular the ALJ’s treatment of the opinion evidence in the record. Upon review of the record, the Tenth Circuit concluded that ALJ’s handling of a testifying doctor's findings was erroneous and, as a result, the dispositive hypothetical inquiry put to the VE was fatally defective. "Indeed, that hypothetical did not even include a restriction (to 'simple' work) that the ALJ himself recognized in his decision." The Court concluded that this matter be remanded for further proceedings, "wherein the ALJ must either obtain a mental RFC determination from an examining source to oppose [the doctor], articulate some other adequate basis for discounting [his] findings, or come back to the VE with a proper hypothetical including those limitations (and his own restriction to 'simple' work, should the ALJ find it appropriate to re-impose such a restriction in the RFC determined on remand)."