United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JENNIFER M. GABALDON, 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 Jennifer M.
Gabaldon's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 16), filed January 25, 2017;
Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's
Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand the Agency's Decision (the
“Response”), (Doc. 18), filed March 21, 2017; and
Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Plaintiff's
Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing (the
“Reply”), (Doc. 19), filed April 4, 2017.
February 13, 2013, Ms. Gabaldon filed an application for
disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning
on February 6, 2013. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) 119). Her application was denied initially
on May 10, 2013, (AR 95-101), and also upon reconsideration.
(AR 102-115). Ms. Gabaldon filed a request for a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
June 11, 2013, (AR 144), and a hearing was held on February
26, 2015 before ALJ Donna Montano. (AR 61-94). At the
hearing, Ms. Gabaldon and Pamela A. Bowman, an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (AR 119). Ms.
Gabaldon was represented at the hearing by William P. Gordon.
(AR 119). ALJ Montano issued her opinion on July 1, 2015,
finding that Ms. Gabaldon was not disabled under 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). (AR 130). Ms. Gabaldon filed an
application for review by the Appeals Council, (AR 57-60),
which was denied, (AR 1-7), making the decision of ALJ
Montano the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) for
purposes of this appeal.
new counsel, Michael Armstrong, Ms. Gabaldon filed an appeal
with this Court. (Doc. 1). Ms. Gabaldon argues that the ALJ
failed to incorporate portions of the medical opinion of
state agency medical consultant Charles Bridges, Ph.D., into
Ms. Gabaldon's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). (Doc. 16 at 2).
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 Dr. Bridges'
opinion, the Court finds that the Motion should be GRANTED
and the case be REMANDED for further proceedings.
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, 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 burden of proof shifts to the
Commissioner to show the claimant is able to perform other
work in the national economy, considering her RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at
Gabaldon applied for disability insurance benefits due to
post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), panic
disorder, and major depression. (AR 234). At step one, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Gabaldon had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 6, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (AR 121). At step two, the ALJ concluded
that Ms. Gabaldon was severely impaired by affective
disorder, anxiety disorder, marijuana dependence, and alcohol
dependence. (AR 121). At step three, the ALJ explained that
she considered whether Ms. Gabaldon's impairments met or
satisfied any of the listed impairments. (AR 122-123). The
ALJ determined that none of Ms. Gabaldon's impairments,
solely or in combination, equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
and 404.1526. (AR 122).
proceeded to step four. She analyzed Ms. Gabaldon's
subjective complaints with the objective evidence in the
record. (AR 123-128). The ALJ found that Ms. Gabaldon's
statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible. (AR 126).
The ALJ discussed Ms. Gabaldon's testimony, medical
records, as well as a report from Dr. Bridges. (AR 123-128).
The ALJ ultimately found that Ms. Gabaldon can perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels. (AR 123). However,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Gabaldon has nonexertional