United States District Court, D. New Mexico
AMANDA A. PARRISH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LOURDES A. MARTINEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the
alternative, for Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum
(Doc. 20) filed December 5, 2016 (hereinafter
“motion”). On February 6, 2017, Defendant filed a
response (Doc. 22) to Plaintiff's motion and, on
February 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a reply (Doc.
23). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and
Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to have the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conduct all
proceedings and enter a final judgment in this case.
See [Docs. 4 and 11]. The Court
has considered Plaintiff's motion, Defendant's
response, Plaintiff's reply, and the relevant law.
Additionally, the Court has meticulously reviewed and
considered the entire administrative record. [Doc.
15]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court FINDS
that Plaintiff's motion should be is DENIED, and the
Commissioner's decision in this case should be AFFIRMED.
18, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter “SSI”).
[Doc. 15-8 at 2]. Plaintiff's application was
denied at the initial level on August 24, 2012 (Doc.
15-5 at 2), and at the reconsideration level on May 9,
2013 (id. at 12). Plaintiff requested a hearing to
review the denial of her application (id. at 18),
and Administrative Law Judge Michelle K. Lindsay (hereinafter
“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on July 11, 2014
(Doc. 15-3 at 30-56). Plaintiff, who was then
represented by attorney Michelle Baca, appeared and testified
at the hearing (id. at 35-51), as did Vocational
Expert Pamela Bowman (hereinafter “VE”)
(id. at 51-55).
September 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision (Doc.
15-3 at 12-24) finding that, under the relevant sections
of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff was not disabled from
the date her application was filed (id. at 12).
Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision. Id. at 8. On March 23, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
the ground that there was “no reason under our rules to
review the [ALJ]'s decision.” Id. at 2.
This decision was the final decision of the Commissioner. On
May 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case.
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. See 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. Hamlin, 365
F.3d at 1214; Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118 (citation and quotation
marks omitted); Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214 (citation
and quotation marks omitted); Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760
(citation and quotation marks omitted). 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 (citation and quotation
marks omitted); Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214 (citation
and quotation marks omitted). 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)
(citations omitted). “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
purposes of SSI, a person establishes a disability 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. §
1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). In light of this
definition for disability, a five-step sequential evaluation
process (hereinafter “SEP”) has been established
for evaluating a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. § 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) the claimant is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity;” and (2) the
claimant 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) the claimant's impairment(s) meet(s) or
equal(s) one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) the claimant is unable to
perform his or her “past relevant work.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d
at 1261. At the fifth step of the evaluation process, the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering his or her residual functional capacity
(hereinafter “RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
Plaintiff's Age, Education, Work Experience, and Medical
History; and the ALJ's Decision
was born on April 21, 1984 and was 28 years old on May 18,
2012, the date she filed her disability application.
[Doc. 15-8 at 2]. Thus, for the purposes of her
disability claim, Plaintiff is considered to be a
“younger person.” In her application, Plaintiff
claimed to be disabled due to bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
depression, and thyroid disease. Id. at 6. Plaintiff
did not complete high school, but obtained a GED in 2002
(Doc. 15-3 at 35), and reads, writes, and
understands English (Doc. 15-8 at 6). Plaintiff
testified that she is 5-feet 5-inches tall and weighed 343
pounds at the time of the hearing. [Doc. 15-3 at
38]. She lives with her fiancé in a second-story,
walk-up apartment, and does not have a driver's license.
Id. at 36-37.
medical records include: consultative psychiatric examination
report, dated January 28, 2010, by Anne Ortiz, M.D. (Doc.
15-10 at 2-6); disability determination examination,
dated May 21, 2010, by Matthew Caffrey, M.D. (id. at
8-10); preliminary report, dated June 12, 2012 (id.
at 19-21) and clinic note, dated August 30, 2012 (Doc.
15-11 at 19-21), from Lindsey E. Riggin, M.D.;
disability determination examination, dated July 28, 2012, by
Raul Neftali Young-Rodriguez, M.D. (Doc. 15-10 at
29-31); mental status examination, dated July 20, 2012, by
Mary S. Loescher, Ph.D. (id. at 34-37); treatment
records, for the period from June 25, 2012 to April 24, 2013,
from the Rape Crisis Center (Doc. 15-12 at 2-46);
treatment records, for the period from February 10, 2014 to
March 24, 2014, from Rio Rancho Family Health Center
(id. at 51-64); and mental RFC questionnaire, dated
June 30, 2014 (Doc. 15-13 at 3-11) and progress
notes, for the period from April 7, 2014 to July 7, 2014
(id. at 13-28), from Jan Voshart, LPCC. Where
relevant, Plaintiff's medical records are discussed in
more detail below.
one of the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the filing of her disability application on May 18,
2012. [Doc. 15-3 at 14]. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
“bipolar disorder; anxiety disorder; post-traumatic
stress disorder; personality disorder with cluster B traits;
and alcohol and marijuana abuse.” Id. The ALJ
also found that there was “no objective medical
evidence to support [Plaintiff]'s subjective complaints
of dizziness, ” and that Plaintiff's hypothyroidism
was “non-severe.” Id. The ALJ also found
“that [Plaintiff]'s back condition and obesity,
alone or in combination, are ‘non-severe'
impairments.” Id. at 15. At the third step,
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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).” Id. In
reaching that conclusion, the ALJ considered Listings 12.04
(Affective Disorders), 12.06 (Anxiety Related Disorders) and
12.08 (Personality Disorders). Id. In evaluating
these mental listings, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
“mild restriction” of her activities of daily
living (id.), and “moderate
difficulties” with both social functioning and
concentration, persistence or pace (id. at 16). She
also found that Plaintiff had not experienced any episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. Id. The ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not satisfy
either the paragraph “B” or paragraph
“C” criteria of the listings considered.
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to
range of work at all exertional levels but with the following
• [Plaintiff] is limited to understanding, remembering,
and carrying out simple instructions;
• [Plaintiff] is able to maintain attention and
concentration to perform simple tasks for two hours at a time
without requiring redirection to task; • [Plaintiff]
should have only occasional public contact;
• [Plaintiff] should have only superficial interactions
with co-workers and supervisors;
• [Plaintiff] should not be required to perform tandem
• [Plaintiff] requires work involving no more than
occasional independent goal setting ...