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Gonzalez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 2, 2017

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



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's objections [ECF No. 33] to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (“PFRD”) [ECF No. 32] on Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse or Remand the Social Security Administration's decision to deny Plaintiff's application for disability benefits [ECF No. 22]. Being fully advised and after de novo review, the Court will overrule Plaintiff's objections, adopt the PFRD, and deny Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion to reverse the Social Security Administration's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 22. In her motion, Plaintiff alleged that her disability began on November 5, 2009, due to bipolar disorder, hypertension, and diabetes. Id. On September 10, 2016, Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Fouratt issued his PFRD, recommending that Plaintiff's motion be denied and the Social Security Administration's decision be affirmed. PFRD, ECF No. 32. On September 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed objections to Judge Fouratt's PFRD. Objections, ECF No. 33.


         After a party objects to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations, the Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions . . . to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Objections must be made with specificity; general or conclusory objections are insufficient. See United States v. 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060-61 (10th Cir. 1996) (“a party's objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation must be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court or for appellate review.”). “[A]n objection must be sufficiently specific to focus the district court's attention on the factual and legal issues that are truly in dispute[.]” Id. at 1060. “Issues raised for the first time in objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation are deemed waived.” Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's objections to the PFRD are primarily two-fold. First, she argues that the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determined by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was not supported by substantial evidence because it failed to incorporate all of Plaintiff's mental limitations. Objections at 3. More specifically, she argues that the RFC failed to include limitations identified by Dr. Schutte, the examining psychologist. Id. Second, she contends that the ALJ did not properly weigh the opinions of Ray Leal, her treating nurse practitioner. Id. at 2.

         A. The RFC Finding Was Supported by Substantial Evidence.

         The ALJ assigned the following RFC to Plaintiff: “[T]he [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: Work should involve primarily things rather than people.” Administrative R. (“AR”) 19-20, ECF No. 13. In both her original motion and her objections to the PFRD, Plaintiff asserts that “the ALJ's RFC finding ‘is not supported by substantial evidence because she failed to include all of [her] mental limitations in the RFC finding.'” Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot. to Remand Commissioner's Administrative Decision 6, ECF No. 22.

         When assessing an individual's RFC, “the ALJ must consider the combined effect of all medically determinable impairments, whether severe or not.” Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1069 (10th Cir. 2013) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(2), 416.945(a)(2)). Furthermore, “the RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).” See Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2014) (citing SSR 96-8P, 1996 WL 374184 (July 2, 1996)).

         After a meticulous review of the record and the parties' briefing, Judge Fouratt found that “[t]he record here reflects that the ALJ considered all of the relevant evidence, and Plaintiff fails to demonstrate that the RFC finding is inconsistent with any medical findings or her mental limitations.” PFRD 14. To reach this conclusion, Judge Fouratt noted that the ALJ reviewed all of the medical evidence, medical opinions, and Plaintiff's function reports. Id. at 14-15. Among the medical evidence was evidence of Plaintiff's past psychiatric hospitalizations, a point on which Plaintiff relies now as evidence of her low mental functioning. However, the first hospitalization, dated October 1, 2008, was outside of the alleged disability period, and therefore, beyond the ALJ's and this Court's scope of review. AR 20. The second hospitalization took place from November 5, 2009, to November 24, 2009. Id. The ALJ addressed this hospitalization and its aftermath, finding that:

At the time of her release from EPPC, the [Plaintiff] was alert, cooperative, and pleasant. Her affect was bright, with good range and appropriate. She reported her mood was good. Her thinking was clear, coherent and goal directed. She was free of paranoia or delusional thought content or thoughts of hurting or killing herself or others. The [Plaintiff] denied experiencing any hallucinations and no impairment of orientation or memory was detected. Her insight and judgment were both good. The [Plaintiff] was to attend follow-up treatment at Sun City Clinic.
The record does not indicate the [Plaintiff] followed up on recommendations regarding ...

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