United States District Court, D. New Mexico
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION ON
MOTION TO REVERSE AND REMAND
FASHING, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Cindy Madrid's
Motion to Reverse Commissioner's Administrative Decision
and Remand Claim (Doc. 26), which was fully briefed June 3,
2016. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Honorable Martha
Vasquez referred this matter to me for a recommended
disposition. Doc. 21. Having carefully reviewed the
parties' submissions and the administrative record, I
recommend that the Court DENY Ms. Madrid's motion.
Standard of Review
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).
“The 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 and
brackets omitted). The Court must meticulously review the
entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A 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 the Court
may not reweigh 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
ALJ'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)
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a). The claimant also must establish that he or she
became disabled before his or her last insured date.
See 42 U.S.C. 423(c)(1); Blea v. Barnhart,
466 F.3d 903, 909 (10th Cir. 2006) (the claimant “only
qualifies for disability benefits if he can show that he was
disabled prior to his last insured date”).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the
evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1) the claimant
is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity;”
(2) the claimant 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) the impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1260-61.
If the claimant cannot show that his or her impairment meets
or equals a Listing but proves that he or she is unable to
perform his or her “past relevant work, ” the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and
work experience. Id.
Background and Procedural History
Madrid is 56 years old and resides with her minor child. AR
130-31. She holds college degrees in chemistry and the
philosophy of religions, and completed laser electro optics
technician school after college. AR 40, 160. She worked for
approximately 17 years as an electro optical technician and
optical engineer. AR 22, 39, 150. Ms. Madrid filed an
application for disability insurance benefits on September
22, 2011, alleging disability since January 1, 2004 due to
sleep apnea, back pain, arm pain, leg pain, plantar
fasciitis, obesity, esophagus damage, respiratory problems,
pancreatitis, depression, a sleeping disorder, high blood
pressure, and a thyroid condition. AR 130-36, 159, 200.
Madrid filed a previous application for disability insurance
benefits on June 19, 2009, which the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied on October 5, 2009.
AR 14. Ms. Madrid did not seek reconsideration of that
decision. Id. Applying the doctrine of res
judicata and declining to reopen her first claim, the
ALJ held that Ms. Madrid's current claim could only
address the time period spanning from the day after her first
claim was denied until the date she was last insured: October
6, 2009 through September 30, 2010. Id. at 14-15.
initially denied Ms. Madrid's current claim on June 8,
2012-finding that the evidence failed to show she was
disabled at any time prior to the date she was last insured.
AR 80-82. The SSA denied her claims on reconsideration on
January 23, 2013. AR 86-87. Ms. Madrid requested a hearing
before an administrative judge (“ALJ”). AR 88-89.
On January 8, 2014, ALJ Barry O'Melinn held a hearing. AR
issued his unfavorable decision on February 25, 2014. AR
11-28. At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Madrid had not
engaged in substantial, gainful activity during the period
from her prior disability denial through her last insured
date. AR 16. Because Ms. Madrid had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity for at least twelve months,
the ALJ proceeded to step two. AR 17-19. At step two, the ALJ
found that Ms. Madrid suffered from the following severe
impairments: obesity, and back, neck and hip disorders. AR
17. The ALJ also found that Ms. Madrid had the following
nonsevere impairments: hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux
disease (GERD), diabetes mellitus, obstructive sleep apnea,
plantar fasciitis, depression, and obsessive compulsive
disorder. AR 17. At step three, the ALJ found that
none of Ms. Madrid's impairments, alone or in
combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. AR 19.
Because the ALJ found that none of the impairments met a
Listing, the ALJ assessed Ms. Madrid's RFC. AR 19-22. The
ALJ found that:
[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) with the
following exceptions: The claimant could occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. She could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to
operational control of moving machinery, unprotected heights
and hazardous machinery. Further, the claimant should avoid
direct contact with latex and adhesives.
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Madrid was unable to perform
any of her past relevant work. AR 22. At step five, the ALJ
found Ms. Madrid was not disabled, concluding that, through
the date she was last insured, she still could perform jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy-such as photo copier, cashier II, and office helper.
August 13, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Madrid's
request for review. AR 1-6. Ms. Madrid timely filed her
appeal to this Court on September 30, 2015. Doc. 1.
Madrid raises two arguments for reversing and remanding this
case: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the combination
of Ms. Madrid's impairments in light of her obesity and
(2) the ALJ improperly evaluated Ms. Madrid's
credibility. For the reasons discussed below, I find these
arguments unpersuasive and recommend that the Court deny the
motion to remand.
The ALJ properly considered the combination of Ms.
Madrid's impairments, including her obesity.
Madrid argues that the ALJ erred by “not properly
considering the combination of her impairments.” Doc.
26 at 4. Specifically, Ms. Madrid argues that the ALJ failed
to properly analyze, discuss, or explain the effects of Ms.
Madrid's obesity on her other impairments. Id.
at 5. Ms. Madrid further argues that the ALJ failed to
adequately discuss the limitations imposed by her fatigue
stemming from her obesity and sleep apnea. Id. at 6.
The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ adequately considered
the combination of ...