United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Gregory Paul
Sherman's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 17), filed November 23, 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. 19), filed January 20, 2017;
and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion to Reverse
and Remand for a Rehearing with Supportive Memorandum
(the “Reply”), (Doc. 22), filed February 9, 2017.
Sherman applied for disability insurance benefits on March 9,
2012, (Administrative Record “AR” 194-95), and
for supplemental security income on March 26, 2012. (AR
196-202). Both applications were denied initially on November
28, 2012, (AR 68-90), and upon reconsideration on March 29,
2013. (AR 94-121). Mr. Sherman requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), (AR 136), which
was held on August 26, 2014, before ALJ Ann Farris. (AR 32).
Mr. Sherman, his father, and Nicole B. King, an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the
hearing. (AR 32-33).
October 22, 2014, ALJ Farris issued her written decision
finding Mr. Sherman not disabled from his amended alleged
onset date, November 21, 2010, through the date of her
decision. (AR 13-26). Mr. Sherman then filed a request for
review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on February
16, 2016, making ALJ Farris' decision Defendant's
final decision for purposes of this appeal. (AR 1).
Sherman now argues the ALJ committed reversible legal error
by incorrectly evaluating medical opinions in the record. The
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 failed to properly follow the correct legal
standards, the Court finds Mr. Sherman's Motion should be
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 Commissioner'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). The Commissioner's
“failure to apply the correct legal standards, or show
. . . that she has done so, are grounds for reversal.”
Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019
(10th Cir. 1996) (citing Washington v.
Shalala, 37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir.
1994)). A court should meticulously review the entire record
but should neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its
judgment for the Commissioner's. 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) (2015), which is generally
the ALJ's decision, rather than the Appeals Council's
denial of review. 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 the Court may not re-weigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo, its examination of the record
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 claimant establishes a disability when 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) (2015), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2004);
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a) (2012). In
order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process (“SEP”). Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant bears the burden of
showing: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; (2) she 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 either (3) her impairment(s) either
meet or equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) she is unable to perform her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i- iv); see Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). If the
ALJ determines the claimant cannot engage in past relevant
work, the ALJ will proceed to step five of the evaluation
process. At step five the Commissioner must show the claimant
is able to perform other work in the national economy,
considering the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
Sherman filed for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income claiming bipolar disorder
affected his ability to work. (AR 68). At step one, the ALJ
found Mr. Sherman had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his amended alleged disability onset date. (AR
18). At step two, the ALJ determined Mr. Sherman has two
severe impairments: bipolar disorder and Asperger's
syndrome. (AR 18). At step three, the ALJ concluded Mr.
Sherman's impairments did not, singly or in combination,
meet or medically equal a Listing impairment. (AR 19).
to step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Sherman has the RFC to
perform work at all exertional levels, but that Mr. Sherman
has the non-exertional limitations of being able to perform
“simple and some detailed, but not complex tasks, with
no public contact and no more than occasional, superficial
interaction with coworkers.” (AR 20). Although the ALJ
found that Mr. Sherman's impairments could be expected to
cause his symptoms, she found Mr. Sherman's statements
were not entirely credible regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of his ...