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Bodine v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 7, 2017

FRIDAY L. BODINE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to deny Plaintiff supplemental security income benefits. Doc. 29. For the reasons discussed below, I recommend finding that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate the opinion of Plaintiff's consultative psychologist. Therefore, I recommend that the Court grant Plaintiff's motion and remand this action to the Commissioner.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an initial application for supplemental security income (SSI) on August 10, 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 150-56. Plaintiff alleged that she had a disability resulting from lethargy, depression, bipolar disorder, severe panic/anxiety attacks, and memory loss. AR at 176. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on August 29, 2013. AR at 30-57.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 28, 2014, concluding that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore was not disabled. AR at 10-29. Plaintiff appealed the denial of her application to the Appeals Council, which declined review on April 27, 2015. AR at 1-3. Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on June 24, 2015, seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Doc. 1.

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a court may review a final decision of the Commissioner only to determine whether it (1) is supported by “substantial evidence” and (2) comports with the proper legal standards. Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991). “In reviewing the ALJ's decision, we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency.” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotations omitted).

         Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Casias, 933 F.3d at 800. “The record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, but an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996). “[I]n addition to discussing the evidence supporting his decision, the ALJ must also discuss the uncontroverted evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well as significantly probative evidence he rejects.” Id. at 1010. “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) (citation omitted).

         II. Parties' Positions

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate: (1) the opinion evidence of Dr. Kenneth Kenney; (2) the opinion evidence of Dr. Steven Baum; and (3) the opinion evidence of Plaintiff's former employers. Doc. 30 at 7-14. Defendant argues that the ALJ reasonably evaluated the opinion evidence of Dr. Kenney, Dr. Baum, and Plaintiff's employers. See generally doc. 35. Ultimately, I recommend finding that the ALJ's opinion must be remanded for failure to properly consider the opinion evidence of Dr. Kenneth Kenney, and I do not reach the other issues.

         III. ALJ Evaluation

         A. Legal Standard

         For purposes of Social Security benefits, an individual is disabled when 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). To determine whether a person satisfies these criteria, the SSA has developed a five-step test. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the Commissioner finds an individual disabled or not disabled at any step, the next step is not taken. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).

         At the first four steps of the analysis, the claimant has the burden to show: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity;”[2] (2) she has a “severe medically determinable . . . impairment . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe” that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year; and that either (3) her impairment or impairments meet or equal one of the “listings” of presumptively disabling impairments; or (4) she is unable to ...


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