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's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Rehearing, with Supporting
Memorandum (the “Motion”), (Doc. 19), filed
October 31, 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. 23), filed
January 30, 2017; and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of
Motion to Reverse and Remand for Rehearing (the
“Reply”), (Doc. 24), filed February 14, 2017.
February 8, 2012, Mr. Gurule filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and on May 26, 2012, he filed
an application for supplemental security income benefits.
(Administrative Record (“AR”) 18). Mr. Gurule
alleged disability beginning on December 1, 2009 in both
applications. (AR 18). His applications were denied initially
on August 15, 2012, (AR 114-117, 118-120), and again upon
reconsideration on February 21, 2013. (AR 123-124, 125-127).
Mr. Gurule filed his request for a hearing on March 21, 2013,
(AR 128-129), and a hearing was held on February 20, 2014
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michelle
K. Lindsay. (AR 32-71). Mr. Gurule and Judith Beard, an
impartial vocational expert (“VE”), testified at
the hearing. (AR 32-71). Mr. Gurule was represented at the
hearing by attorney Christopher S. O'Connor. (AR 18).
issued her opinion on June 26, 2014, finding that Mr. Gurule
was not disabled. (AR 15-31). Mr. Gurule filed an application
for review by the Appeals Council, which was summarily
denied, (AR 7-9), making the decision of the ALJ the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”) for purposes
of this appeal.
new counsel, Kevin Sanders and Michael Armstrong, Mr. Gurule
argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to:
(1) perform a function-by-function analysis of work-related
abilities; (2) formulate a credibility analysis that is
supported by substantial evidence; (3) find that Mr. Gurule
was severely impaired by foot problems and obesity; (4)
develop the administrative record; and (5) rely on an
adequate number of representative jobs. (Doc. 19).
Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply, and
relevant law. Additionally, the Court has meticulously
reviewed and considered the entire administrative record.
Because the ALJ did not commit reversible legal error and
supported her decision with substantial evidence, the Court
orders that the Motion be DENIED and the case be DISMISSED
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 for evaluating a
disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant has the burden to
show that: (1) he is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; that (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 residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and
work experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1257.
Gurule initially applied for disability benefits and
supplemental security income alleging that he suffers from a
“L4-[L]5 herniated disc, bulging, pain in legs, and
carpal tun[n]el.” (AR 72).
one, the ALJ determined that Mr. Gurule met the insured
status requirements through September 30, 2014, and found
that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
December 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. (AR 20). At step
two, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Gurule was severely impaired
by degenerative disc and facet disease of the lumbar spine,
right rotator cuff tear, anxiety, and depression. (AR 21).
three, the ALJ considered whether Mr. Gurule's
impairments solely or in combination met or satisfied any of
the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926. (AR
21). The ALJ ultimately determined that none of Mr.
Gurule's impairments, solely or in combination, met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (AR 21).
proceeded to step four. First, she analyzed Mr. Gurule's
subjective complaints of his symptoms and the objective
medical evidence in the record. (AR 23-25). The ALJ found
that Mr. Gurule's statements as to the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not
entirely credible. (AR 24-25). The ALJ discussed Mr.
Gurule's medical records and considered the reports and
opinions of agency medical consultants Stephen A. Whaley,
M.D., and James Wellons, M.D. (AR 24-25).
ultimately found that Mr. Gurule has the RFC to perform light
work, except he can only occasionally climb stairs and ramps.
(AR 23). The ALJ additionally limited him to occasionally
stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling; never climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and frequently reaching
overhead with the dominant upper extremity. (AR 23). Further,
the ALJ limited Mr. Gurule to understanding, remembering, and
carrying out only simple instructions; maintaining attention
and concentration to perform simple tasks for two hours at a
time without redirection; and having only occasional contact
with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors. (AR 23).
the ALJ considered whether Mr. Gurule was capable of doing
any of his past relevant work. (AR 25). The ALJ explained
that Mr. Gurule's past relevant work includes the jobs of
rough carpenter and dry wall applicator, and found that in
light of the RFC finding, Mr. Gurule was not capable of
performing his past work. (AR 25).
five, the ALJ inquired whether Mr. Gurule would be able to
perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. (AR 26-27). The ALJ noted that Mr. Gurule
was 49 years old on the alleged disability onset date and was
therefore classified as a “younger individual” in
accordance with the Regulations. (AR 26). The ALJ also
determined that Mr. Gurule has at least a high school
education and is able to communicate in English. (AR 26).
testified at the hearing that an individual with Mr.
Gurule's same age, education, work experience, and RFC
could perform the jobs of assembler/small products,
inspector/hand packager, and electronics worker. (AR 26-27).
Based on this analysis, the ALJ concluded that because Mr.
Gurule is capable of performing work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy, he is not disabled pursuant
to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). (AR
Gurule argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by
failing to: (1) perform a function-by-function analysis of
work-related abilities; (2) formulate a credibility analysis
that is supported by substantial evidence; (3) find that Mr.
Gurule was severely impaired by foot problems and obesity;
(4) develop the administrative record; and (5) rely on an
adequate number of representative jobs. (Doc. 19 at 2). The