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Davis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 3, 2017

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


          William P. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         Sarah Davis applied for supplemental security income on April 8, 2011, alleging disability beginning on May 30, 2002, from “Bipolar, anxiety, PTSD, Chromes Disease, Depression” [sic]. (Administrative Record “AR” 129, 146, 150.) After her application was denied at all administrative levels, she brought this proceeding for judicial review. The case is before me on her Fact and Law Summary, which was filed in the Western District of Kentucky and later transferred to this District; a response filed by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”); and Davis's reply. (Docs. 13, 16, 30, 31.) For the reasons explained below, I recommend that the Court grant Davis's motion and remand this case to the SSA.[2]

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision, the Court must determine whether it is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th Cir. 2008). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if other evidence in the record overwhelms it or if there is a mere scintilla of evidence supporting it. Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence does not, however, require a preponderance of the evidence. U.S. Cellular Tel. of Greater Tulsa, L.L.C. v. City of Broken Arrow, Okla., 340 F.3d 1122, 1133 (10th Cir. 2003). The Court must meticulously examine the record, but it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner. Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214. The Court may reverse and remand if the ALJ failed “to apply the correct legal standards, or to show us that she has done so . . . .” Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996).

         Sequential Evaluation Process

         The SSA has devised a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine disability. See Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24 (2003); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) (2015). If a finding of disability or nondisability is directed at any point, the ALJ will not proceed through the remaining steps. Thomas, 540 U.S. at 24. At the first three steps, the ALJ considers the claimant's current work activity, the medical severity of the claimant's impairments, and the requirements of the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4), & Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. If a claimant's impairments are not equal to one of those in the Listing of Impairments, then the ALJ proceeds to the first of three phases of step four and determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). See Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1023; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The ALJ then determines the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work in phase two of the fourth step and, in the third phase, compares the claimant's RFC with the functional requirements of her past relevant work to see if the claimant is still capable of performing her past work. See Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1023; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). If a claimant is not prevented from performing her past work, then she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the question of disability for the first four steps, and then the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987); Talbot v. Heckler, 814 F.2d 1456, 1460 (10th Cir. 1987). If the claimant cannot return to her past work, then the Commissioner bears the burden, at the fifth step, of showing that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See Thomas, 540 U.S. at 24-25; see also Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-51 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing the five-step sequential evaluation process in detail).

         Factual Background

         Davis is forty-six years old. (AR 146.) She has a high school education and previously worked as a “Laborer” at a restaurant. (AR 151.)

         I do not address everything in the record but rather target my factual discussion to those facts necessary to the disposition of this case.

         Davis states that she stopped working in 1990 because of her conditions. (AR 150.) Though the relevant period of disability began in 2011, she reported being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002 and undergoing a psychiatric admission to the hospital in 2008. (AR 337, 339.)

         In 2011, Davis saw Jeremy Edmonds, D.O., who the ALJ later classified as a treating physician (see AR 28), six times between February and May to obtain medications and treatment for depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and skin issues, among others. (See AR 285-300.) Dr. Edmonds noted during the March 28, 2011, visit that “in my medical opinion . . . she is unable to work due to mental disease” and referred Davis to “[V]alencia [C]ounseling.” (AR 300.)

         On April 14, 2011, Davis underwent an Initial Evaluation at Valencia Counseling. (AR 388-403.) Barbara Rattenborg, LSW, noted that Davis “reports symptoms of [b]ipolar and domestic violence with husband. [Davis] currently living with Grandmother, but reports he continues to harass her.” (AR 388.)

         On July 2, 2011, Melanie Marie Falgout, M.D., performed a consultative examination (AR 337-340) and concluded that “[w]ith regard to the multiple psychiatric evaluations, no findings on exam other than that she mentated somewhat slowly and appeared to be very nervous” (AR 340).

         On July 29, 2011, Mary S. Loescher, Ph.D., performed a consultative examination (AR 342-345) and concluded that Davis had two severe workplace limitations-“her ability to understand, remember and follow through on basic work instructions” and “her ability to manage stress in ...

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