United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff Elaine Marie
Miller's Motion to Reverse for Payment of Benefits,
or in the Alternative, to Remand for Rehearing (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 20), filed on October 20, 2016;
Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's Brief in
Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand the
Agency's Administrative Decision (the
“Response”), (Doc. 24), filed January 20, 2017;
and Plaintiff's Reply to Brief in Response to
Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand (the
“Reply”), (Doc. 25), filed February 2, 2017.
2, 2014, Ms. Miller applied for supplemental security income,
alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2012.
(Administrative Record (“AR”) 152-157). Her
application was denied on September 3, 2014, (AR 95-98), and
also upon reconsideration on April 14, 2015. (AR 102-104).
Ms. Miller filed her request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 24,
2015, (AR 105), and a hearing was set for January 7, 2016,
before ALJ Ann Farris. (AR 117-143, 34-64). Ms. Miller and
Mary D. Weber, an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), testified at the hearing. (AR 34-64). Ms.
Miller was represented by attorney Michelle Baca at the
hearing. (AR 18). ALJ Farris issued her opinion on January
29, 2016, finding that Ms. Miller was not disabled under 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(g) since May 1, 2014. (AR 28). Ms.
Miller filed an application for review by the Appeals
Council, (AR 7-14) which was denied, (AR 1-6), making the
decision of ALJ Farris the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) for purposes of this appeal.
Miller filed her Complaint before this Court through
new counsel, Francesca J. MacDowell. (Doc. 1). Ms. Miller
argues that the ALJ committed reversible, legal error by
failing to: (1) use the correct standards in weighing the
treating and examining source evidence; (2) form a residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) in accordance with
the substantial evidence; and (3) resolve conflicts between
the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”). (Doc. 20 at 3).
Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply, and
relevant law. In addition, the Court has meticulously
reviewed and considered the entire administrative record.
Because the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinions
in the record, the Court finds that the Motion should be
GRANTED and the case be REMANDED for further proceedings.
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) (citing Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992)).
If substantial evidence supports the ALJ'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); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). A court should
meticulously review the entire record but should neither
re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118;
Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214. A court's review is
limited to the Commissioner's final decision, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), which generally is the ALJ's decision, not
the Appeals Council's denial of review. 20 C.F.R. §
404.981; O'Dell v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858
(10th Cir. 1994).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. An ALJ's
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.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. 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 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
ALJ]'s 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. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
purposes of disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income, a person establishes a disability when he 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), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.905(a). In light of this definition for
disability, a five-step sequential evaluation process
(“SEP”) has been established to determine whether
a person is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant has the burden to
show that: (1) he is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; (2) he 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) his impairment(s) either meet or
equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) he is unable to perform his
“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 the ALJ determines the claimant cannot
engage in past relevant work, she will proceed to step five
of the evaluation process. At step five the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant is able to
perform other work in the national economy, considering his
RFC, age, education, and work experience. Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1257.
Miller initially applied for supplemental security income
alleging post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).
(AR 66). At step one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Miller had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1,
2014. (AR 20). At step two, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Miller
was severely impaired by fibromyalgia, left shoulder
dislocation, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder,
panic disorder, and PTSD. (AR 20).
three, the ALJ explained that she considered whether Ms.
Miller's impairments satisfied or met any of the listed
impairments. (AR 20). She determined that none of Ms.
Miller's impairments, solely or in combination, equaled
one of the listed ...