United States District Court, D. New Mexico
CHRISTINA S. CARNERO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision and its
Memorandum Brief in Support [Docs. 11, 12] (collectively,
“Motion”), filed on May 11, 2016. The
Commissioner responded on August 5, 2016. [Doc. 18].
Plaintiff replied on August 19, 2016. [Doc. 19]. The parties
have consented to the undersigned's entering final
judgment in this case. [Doc. 15]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds no reversible error in the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) evaluation
and rejection of Dr. Baum's opinion. Accordingly, the
Motion will be denied.
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings and the correct legal standards
were applied, the Commissioner's decision stands and the
plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The decision “is
not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla
of evidence supporting it.” Id. While a court
may not re-weigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
[Commissioner]'s findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“The possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the] findings
from being supported by substantial evidence.” Lax
v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing
Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide
this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must
establish that she is unable “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A);
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four
steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1)
she is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (2) she has a “severe
medically determinable . . . impairment . . . or a
combination of impairments” that has lasted or is
expected to last for at least one year; and (3) her
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings”of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) she is unable to perform her “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If she cannot show that her impairment
meets or equals a Listing, but she proves that she is unable
to perform her “past relevant work, ” the burden
of proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for disabled widow's benefits and supplemental
security income on December 14, 2011. Tr. 18. She originally
alleged a disability-onset date of March 1, 2005, but later
amended it to December 6, 2011. Id. Her claims were
denied initially and on reconsideration. Id.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. Id. On
November 15, 2013, ALJ Ben Willner presided over a hearing in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 18, 40-79. Plaintiff appeared by
video conference from Roswell, New Mexico, and her attorney
appeared in Albuquerque. Tr. 42, 43-44. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Pamela Bowman, who appeared by telephone.
Tr. 42-43, 44-73, 73-77.
issued his unfavorable decision on January 13, 2014. Tr. 30.
After finding that Plaintiff met the non-disability
requirements for disabled widow's benefits set forth at
42 U.S.C. § 402(e), the ALJ proceeded to the sequential
evaluation process. Tr. 20. At step one, he found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her amended alleged onset date. Tr. 21. Accordingly,
the ALJ proceeded to step two, where he found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments:
“Degenerative Disc Disease; Obesity; Personality
Disorder; and Depression[.]” Id. At step
three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 21-23.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
23-28. The ALJ found that
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except
[she] is limited to work with simple tasks and simple
instructions, for which she can maintain concentration and
attention for two hours at a time before taking a normally
scheduled break, and then returning to ...