United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER DENYING REMAND
GREGORY B. WORMUTH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Remand the Social Security Agency (“SSA”)
decision to deny Plaintiff disability insurance benefits.
Doc. 24. For the reasons discussed below,
Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED, and this action is
DISMISSED with prejudice.
filed an initial application for disability insurance
benefits (DIB) on April 15, 2013. Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 161-65. Plaintiff alleged that she had
a disability resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder,
anxiety, depression, migraines, and knee problems. AR at
211-12. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing
regarding Plaintiff's disability claim on December 1,
2015. AR at 30-54.
January 15, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
concluding that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy and therefore was
not disabled. AR at 9-25. Plaintiff appealed the denial of
her application to the Appeals Council, which declined review
on May 3, 2016. AR at 1-4. Plaintiff filed suit in this Court
on July 7, 2016, seeking review of the ALJ's decision.
Standard of Review
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a court may review a final
decision of the Commissioner only to determine whether it (1)
is supported by “substantial evidence” and (2)
comports with the proper legal standards. Casias v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799,
800-01 (10th Cir. 1991). “In reviewing the ALJ's
decision, we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our
judgment for that of the agency.” Bowman v.
Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Casias, 933
F.3d at 800. “The record must demonstrate that the ALJ
considered all of the evidence, but an ALJ is not required to
discuss every piece of evidence.” Clifton v.
Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996).
“[I]n addition to discussing the evidence supporting
his decision, the ALJ must also discuss the uncontroverted
evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well as
significantly probative evidence he rejects.”
Id. at 1010. “The possibility of drawing two
inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent
[the] findings from being supported by substantial
evidence.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084
(10th Cir. 2007).
asserts that: (1) the ALJ erred by failing to properly
evaluate the opinion evidence of Dr. Tamara Kodis,
Plaintiff's treating psychologist; (2) the ALJ erred by
failing to properly consider the fact that Plaintiff receives
disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs;
(3) the ALJ erred by failing to properly develop the record;
and (4) the Appeals Council violated Plaintiff's due
process rights by refusing the request of Plaintiff's
counsel to examine the evidence and to submit additional
evidence for the Appeals Council to review. See doc.
24 at 10-16. Defendant argues that: (1) the ALJ properly
evaluated the opinion evidence of Dr. Kodis and supported
that evaluation with substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ
properly considered and discounted Plaintiff's disability
rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs; (3) the ALJ
sufficiently developed the record to make a disability
determination; and (4) the Appeals Council's decision to
deny Plaintiff an extension of time to review the evidence
and submit additional evidence did not violate
Plaintiff's due process rights. See doc. 25 at
9-19. Ultimately, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not
commit reversible error and therefore the opinion should not
purposes of Social Security disability insurance benefits, an
individual is disabled 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. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine
whether a person satisfies these criteria, the SSA has
developed a five-step test. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. If the Commissioner finds an individual disabled at
any step, the next step is not taken. Id. §
first four steps of the analysis, the claimant has the burden
to show: (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 that either (3) her impairment(s) meet
or equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) she is unable to perform her
“past relevant work.” Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005).
four of this analysis consists of three phases. Winfrey
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). First,
the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) in light of “all of the
relevant medical and other evidence.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(3). A claimant's RFC is “the most [he
or she] can still do despite [physical and mental]
limitations.” Id. § 404.1545(a)(1).
Second, the ALJ determines the physical and mental demands of
the claimant's past work. “To make the necessary
findings, the ALJ must obtain adequate ‘factual
information about those work demands which have a bearing on
the medically established limitations.'”
Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1024 (quoting Social Security
Ruling 82-62 (1982)). Third, the ALJ determines whether, in
light of the RFC, the claimant is capable of meeting those
demands. Id. at 1023, 1025.
ALJ concludes that the claimant cannot engage in past
relevant work, he or she proceeds 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 the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1257.