United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum
(Doc. 15) filed on November 2, 2016. Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have
consented to me serving as the presiding judge and entering
final judgment. See Docs. 5, 8, 9. Having
considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant
law, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken
and will be DENIED.
November 6, 2012, Mr. Allen Kent Barber (Plaintiff)
protectively filed applications with the Social Security
Administration for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. Administrative Record (AR) at 211-24,
239. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of April 29,
2011. AR at 15, 279. Disability Determination
Services determined that Plaintiff was not disabled both
initially (AR at 70-87) and on reconsideration (AR at
88-116). Plaintiff requested a hearing with an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on the merits of his SSI
application. AR at 133-34.
appeared pro se and testified at the de novo
hearing. See AR at 15, 37-56. ALJ Christopher H.
Juge issued an unfavorable decision on August 6, 2014. AR at
12-35. Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review
the ALJ's decision (AR at 10); the Appeals Council denied
the request for review on February 11, 2016 (AR 1-5).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331
F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).
Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings
claimant seeking disability benefits must establish that 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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
The Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); see also Wall
v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
claimant has the burden at the first four steps of the
process to show: (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) meet or equal
one of the listings in Appendix 1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404; or (4) pursuant to the assessment of the claimant's
residual functional capacity (RFC), 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); see also
Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005)
(citations omitted). “RFC is a multidimensional
description of the work-related abilities [a claimant]
retain[s] in spite of [his] medical impairments.”
Ryan v. Colvin, Civ. 15-0740 KBM, 2016 WL 8230660,
at *2 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2016) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(B); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1)). If the claimant meets “the burden of
establishing a prima facie case of disability[, ] . . . the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that” Plaintiff retains sufficient RFC “to
perform work in the national economy, given his age,
education, and work experience.” Grogan, 399
F.3d at 1261 (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 751 & n.2 (10th Cir. 1988) (internal citation
omitted)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
One of the process,  ALJ Juge found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date of April 29, 2011. AR at 17 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1571 et seq., 416.971 et
seq.). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
“has the following severe impairment[s]: large
Hill-Sachs lesion and labral tear of the left shoulder status
post arthroscopic Bankart repair, and degenerative disc
disease . . . .” AR at 18 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)). The ALJ discussed
Plaintiff's history of anxiety, depression, and the
psychiatric treatment he received from various providers and
found that any “medically determinable mental
impairments cause[d] no more than [a] ‘mild'
limitation in any of the first three functional areas and
‘no' episodes of decompensation which have been of
extended duration in the fourth area . . . .” AR at
18-21. Consequently, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's
mental impairments are non-severe. AR at 21 (citing 202
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(d)(1), 416.920a(d)(1)).
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 .
. . .” AR at 21 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925,
416.926). At Step Four, the ALJ found that while Plaintiff
“has severe impairments that could reasonably be
expected to produce some of the symptoms he alleges and which
would affect his ability to perform work related activities[,
]” the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's
“allegations that he is incapable of all work activity
to be credible.” AR at 25. The ALJ considered the
evidence of record, including a thoughtful and well-reasoned
discussion of the treatment notes and impressions of Dr. Paul
Mattox (treating psychiatrist) and the examination and Mental
RFC Assessment performed by Dr. John Koewler (consultative
psychologist), as well as the treatment notes and Physical
RFC Assessment of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr.
Carletta Thompson, along with records and evaluations from
other medical providers. AR at 18-27. Ultimately, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff “has the residual functional
capacity to perform the full range of light work . . .
.” AR at 21 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b)
Juge found that Plaintiff is unable to perform his past
relevant work as an automobile mechanic. AR at 28. The ALJ
considered Plaintiff's “age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, ” and
upon application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
(colloquially known as the “Grids”), found
“there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform . . .
.” AR at 28 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569,
404.1569(a), 416.969, 416.969(a)). The ALJ ultimately
determined that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April
29, 2011, through the date of the [ALJ's] decision . . .
.” AR at 28 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
Court must “review the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Lax v. Astrue,
489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal
citation omitted)). A deficiency in either area is grounds
for remand. Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156,
1161, 1166 (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is
‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Hackett, 395
F.3d at 1172 (internal quotation omitted)). “It
‘requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.'” Id. (quoting
Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
2004) (internal quotation omitted) (alteration in original)).
The Court will “consider whether the ALJ followed the
specific rules of law that must be followed in weighing
particular types of evidence in disability cases, but [it]
will not reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment
for the Commissioner's.” Id. (quoting
Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172 (internal quotation marks
and quotations omitted)).
possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the
evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's
findings from being supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. (quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200
(internal quotation omitted)). The Court “may not
‘displace the agenc[y's] choice between two fairly
conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably
have made a different choice had the matter been before it de
novo.'” Id. (quoting Zoltanski,
372 F.3d at 1200 (internal quotations omitted)).
asserts that the ALJ: (1) improperly rejected the medical
opinion of treating physician Carletta Thompson, M.D., and
(2) ignored findings from Administrative Examining
Psychologist John Koewler, Ph.D. and Non-Examining State
Agency Medical Consultant, Renate Wewerka, Ph.D. Doc.
15 at 15-25.
Treating Physician Carletta Thompson, M.D.
first argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Carletta Thompson.
Doc. 15 at 15-21. Specifically, Plaintiff argues
first that ALJ Juge did not perform the two-step treating
physician analysis as required by law, and second that the
ALJ's reasoning for rejecting Dr. Thompson's opinion
is conclusory and fails to reference the portions of the
record with which the ALJ found the opinion was inconsistent.
Doc. 15 at 17.
must follow a two-step inquiry when evaluating a treating
must consider all medical opinions found in the record.
Padilla v. Colvin, No. CV 14-495 CG, 2015 WL
10383109, at *4 (D.N.M. June 29, 2015) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(b), 416.927(b)). “Medical
opinions are statements from physicians and psychologists or
other acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments
about” a plaintiff's impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(a)(2), 416.927(a)(2). An opinion from a
treating physician is generally entitled to more weight than
either an examining or an agency physician. Padilla,
2015 WL 10383109, at *4 (citing Robinson v.
Barnhart, 366 F.3d 1078, 1084 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal
ALJ should accord opinions of treating physicians controlling
weight when those opinions are well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the
record; this is known as the ‘treating physician
rule.'” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2); Langley v. Barnhart,
373 F.3d 1116, 1119 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal citations
omitted)). “A treating physician's opinion is
accorded controlling weight because the treating physician
has a ‘unique perspective to the medical evidence that
cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone
or from reports of individual examinations, such as
consultative examinations.'” Id. (quoting
Doyal, 331 F.3d at 762 (internal quotation
the “treating physician's opinion is not supported
by medical evidence or consistent with the record, ”
id. (citation omitted), it is “still entitled
to deference and must be weighed using all of the factors
provided in 20 C.F.R. [§§] 404.1527 and
416.927.” Robinson, 366 F.3d at 1082 (quoting
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir.
2003) (quoting Soc. Sec. Ruling, SSR 96-2p, Policy
Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI: Giving Controlling
Weight to Treating Source Medical Opinions, 1996 WL 374188,
at *4 (July 2, 1996))). The factors include:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, including the treatment provided and
the kind of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree
to which the physician's opinion is supported by relevant
evidence; (4) consistency between the opinion and the record
as a whole; (5) whether or not the physician is a specialist
in the area upon which an opinion is rendered; and (6) other
factors brought to the ALJ's attention which tend to
support or contradict the opinion.
Id. (quoting Watkins, 350 F.3d at 1300
(internal quotations omitted)). “When evaluating any
medical opinion in the record, the ALJ must give good reasons
- reasons that are ‘sufficiently specific to make clear
to any subsequent reviewers' - for the weight that he
ultimately assigns to” those opinions.
Padilla, 2015 WL 10383109, at *4 (quoting
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1119 (internal quotations
omitted)). The ALJ's ...