United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ROGER M. SERAFIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff Roger M.
Serafin’s Motion to Reverse and Remand for
Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 18), filed November 22, 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. 22), filed February 24, 2017;
and Plaintiff’s Reply in Support of Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Rehearing (the
“Reply”), (Doc. 24), filed March 15, 2017.
Additionally before the Court is Mr. Serafin’s
Unopposed Motion to Extend Briefing Deadlines (the
“Motion to Extend Deadlines”), (Doc. 23), filed
March 10, 2017.
September 3, 2009, Mr. Serafin filed an application for
disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning
on August 10, 2009. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
125-126). His application was denied initially on March 28,
2010, (AR 75-78), and also upon reconsideration. (AR 80-82).
Mr. Serafin filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 9, 2010,
(AR 85-86), and a hearing was held on October 13, 2011 before
ALJ Ann Farris. (AR 35-70). At the hearing, Mr. Serafin and
Thomas A. Greiner, an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”) testified. (AR 24). Mr. Serafin was
represented at the hearing by non-attorney representative
John Bishop. (AR 24). ALJ Farris issued her opinion on
January 5, 2012, finding that Mr. Serafin was not disabled
under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). (AR 34). Mr. Serafin
filed an application for review by the Appeals Council, (AR
20), which was denied, (AR 1-6), making the decision of ALJ
Farris the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) for
purposes of this appeal.
new counsel, Michael Armstrong, Mr. Serafin filed an appeal
with this Court. On August 26, 2014, Chief United States
Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen filed a Proposed
Findings and Recommended Disposition
(“PFRD”), recommending that Mr. Serafin’s
case be remanded to the Commissioner for further review. (AR
579). Judge Molzen found that ALJ Farris (1) failed to
perform a proper function-by-function analysis; (2) her
residual functional capacity ("RFC”) was not
supported by substantial evidence; and (3) she failed to make
the required findings as to the demands of Mr.
Serafin’s past work and his ability to perform that
work. (AR 578-579). Senior United States District Judge C.
LeRoy Hansen adopted Judge Molzen’s PFRD on September
16, 2014 and the case was remanded to the Commissioner. (AR
remand, the Appeals Council directed ALJ Farris to
consolidate the September 3, 2009 claim with a claim filed by
Mr. Serafin on March 1, 2014. (AR 467). ALJ Farris held a
second hearing on October 22, 2015, (AR 489-534), at which
Mr. Serafin and Karen N. Provine, an impartial VE, testified.
(AR 467). ALJ Farris issued her opinion on December 15, 2015,
again finding that Mr. Serafin was not disabled under 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
Serafin filed his new Complaint with this Court on
April 11, 2016. (Doc. 1). Mr. Serafin argues that the ALJ (1)
omitted limitations found by the reviewing doctor without
explanation; (2) did not give good reasons for discounting
the opinion of Deborah Jarmul, Physician’s
Assistant-Certified (“PA-C”); (3) failed to
develop the record with respect to Mr. Serafin’s
physical and mental impairments; and (4) based her opinion on
unreliable vocational data. (Doc. 18 at 1).
Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply, and
relevant law. In addition, the Court has meticulously
reviewed and considered the entire administrative record.
Because the ALJ failed to properly analyze and weigh the
medical opinions in the record, the Court finds that the
Motion should be GRANTED and the case be REMANDED for further
proceedings. Additionally, because Mr. Serafin filed his
Reply, the Court will DENY AS MOOT his Motion to Extend
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 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), 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 to determine whether
a person is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant has the burden to
show that: (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 (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); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If
the ALJ determines the claimant cannot engage in past
relevant work, he will proceed to step five of the evaluation
process. At step five the ...