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Garcia v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 9, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          KIRTAN KHALSA United States Magistrate Judge

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Social Security Administrative Record (Doc. 16) filed November 10, 2016 in support of Plaintiff Karen Arlene Garcia's (“Plaintiff”) Complaint (Doc. 1) seeking review of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claims for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income. On January 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Reverse and Remand for Rehearing With Supporting Memorandum (“Motion”). (Doc. 21.) The Commissioner filed a Response in opposition on March 21, 2017 (Doc. 23), and Plaintiff filed a Reply on April 4, 2017. (Doc. 24.) The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and the applicable law and being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds the Motion is well taken and is GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural Record

         Claimant Karen Arlene Garcia (“Ms. Garcia”) alleges that she became disabled on January 2, 2012, at the age of forty-eight because of diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, anemia, cataracts, and high cholesterol. (Tr. 194, 198.[3]) Ms. Garcia has two years of college, and worked as an accounts payable clerk, file clerk, home healthcare assistant, receptionist, and sewing operator. (Tr. 199.)

         On October 4, 2012, Ms. Garcia protectively filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and concurrently filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (Tr. 165-70, 195.) Ms. Garcia's applications were initially denied on March 8, 2013. (Tr. 59, 60, 61-69, 70-78.) They were denied again at reconsideration on July 24, 2013. (Tr. 79-88, 89-98, 99, 100.) On August 14, 2013, Ms. Garcia requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 117-18.) The ALJ conducted a hearing on November 5, 2014. (Tr. 39-58.) Ms. Garcia appeared in person at the hearing with attorney Lisa Mobley.[4] (Id.) The ALJ took testimony from Ms. Garcia (Tr. 41-55), and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Thomas Griner. (Tr. 55-57.) On January 30, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 23-34.)

         On April 21, 2016, the Appeals Council issued its decision denying Ms. Garcia's request for review and upholding the ALJ's final decision. (Tr. 1-7.) On June 24, 2016, Ms. Garcia timely filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. 1.)

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004). A decision is based on substantial evidence where it is supported by “relevant evidence . . . a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in the record[, ]” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118, or “constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The Commissioner's decision must “provide this court with a sufficient basis to determine that appropriate legal principles have been followed.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005). Therefore, although an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence, “the record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence, ” and “the [ALJ's] reasons for finding a claimant not disabled” must be “articulated with sufficient particularity.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996).

         In considering an application for disability insurance benefits, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). The claimant bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability at steps one through four. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). If the claimant successfully meets that burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(v), 416.920(a)(v); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.

         III. Analysis

         The ALJ made his decision that Ms. Garcia was not disabled at step four of the sequential evaluation. He found that Ms. Garcia had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that

she is able to lift 25 pounds frequently, stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for more than six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can frequently stoop and bend and only occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl.

(Tr. 31.) Based on the RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Garcia was capable of performing her past relevant work as a receptionist and that she was therefore not disabled. (Tr. 33.) On March 12, 2015, Ms. Garcia requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and stated she planned to submit additional medical evidence. (Tr. 8.) On April 22, 2015, Ms. Garcia submitted additional medical records from the University of New Mexico Hospital dated January 2, 2015, through January 21, 2105, and also submitted two medical source statements from CNP Nora Sanchez dated April 15, 2015. (Tr. 9-10, 453.) The Appeals Council denied review. (Doc. 1-7.) In so doing, it stated in pertinent part

[w]e also looked at the Medical Assessment of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities completed by unknown physician dated April 15, 2015 (2 pages). The Administrative Law Judge decided your case through January 30, 2015. This new information is about a later time. Therefore, it does not affect the ...

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