United States District Court, D. New Mexico
GREGORY J. FOURATT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's “Motion
to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting
Memorandum” (“Motion”), filed on October
21, 2016. ECF No. 19. The Commissioner responded on January
20, 2017. ECF No. 23. Plaintiff replied on February 6, 2017.
ECF No. 24. Having meticulously reviewed the briefing and the
entire record, the Court concludes that the Commissioner
followed the correct legal standards and supported her
decision with substantial evidence. Therefore, and for the
further reasons articulated below, the Court will DENY
9, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”), alleging disability beginning April 20,
2011. Administrative Record (“AR”) 186. On
September 26, 2012, Plaintiff applied for supplemental
security income (“SSI”), also alleging disability
beginning April 20, 2011. AR 193. Plaintiff alleged
disability due to chronic pain in his lower back, sciatica,
tendonitis, a heart attack in December 2010, depression, high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, and headaches. AR 226.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on October
4, 2012. AR 128. On reconsideration, Plaintiff's
applications were again denied on June 21, 2013. AR 136.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on June 12,
2014, before ALJ John Rolph, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. AR
9-19; 25. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, along with
Leslie White, an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”). AR 25. Plaintiff was represented at the
hearing by Kimberly Wyatt, an attorney. AR 25.
September 17, 2014, ALJ Rolph issued his decision, finding
Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act and
therefore not entitled to either SSI or DIB. AR 19. Plaintiff
requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on
January 13, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 1. Plaintiff
subsequently appealed on March 15, 2016. ECF No. 1.
Standard of Review
the Appeals Council denies a claimant's request for
review, the ALJ's decision becomes the final decision of
the agency. The Court's review of that final
agency decision is both factual and legal. See 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)) (“The standard
of review in a social security appeal is whether the correct
legal standards were applied and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence.”).
factual findings at the administrative level are conclusive
“if supported by substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (2012). “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);
Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir.
2004); Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th
Cir. 2003). 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. Substantial evidence does
not, however, require a preponderance of the evidence.
See 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)).
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) (citation omitted). “Rather,
in addition to discussing the evidence supporting his
decision, the ALJ also must 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
an administrative agency's findings from being supported
by substantial evidence.” Lax, 489 F.3d at
1084. 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.
the review of the ALJ's legal decisions, the Court
examines “whether the ALJ followed the specific rules
of law that must be followed in weighing particular types of
evidence in disability cases.” Lax, 489 F.3d
at 1084. The Court may reverse and remand if the ALJ failed
“to apply the correct legal standards, or to show . . .
that she has done so.” Winfrey v. Chater, 92
F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996).
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, 373 F.3d at 1118;
Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214, Doyal, 331 F.3d
Sequential Evaluation Process
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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4) (2017). 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4), & Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 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. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). In
phase two, the ALJ determines the physical and mental demands
of the claimant's past relevant work, and in the third
phase, compares the claimant's RFC with the functional
requirements of his past relevant work to determine if the
claimant is still capable of performing his past work.
See Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1023; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If a claimant is able to perform his
past work, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f). The claimant bears the burden of
proof on the question of disability for the first four steps.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987);
Talbot v. Heckler, 814 F.2d 1456, 1460 (10th Cir.
claimant cannot return to his past work, then the
Commissioner bears the burden at the fifth step of showing
that the claimant is nonetheless 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
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS
advances two arguments in support of reversing and remanding
the ALJ's decision. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ
improperly rejected the opinion of Plaintiff's treating
physician, Steven Hartman, M.D. Pl's. Mot. 15-19. Second,
Plaintiff claims the ALJ committed reversible error by
failing to resolve a conflict between the VE's testimony
and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”). Pl.'s Mot. 19-23. The Commissioner
responds that the ALJ's treatment of Dr. Hartman's
was legally correct and supported by substantial evidence.
Def.'s Resp. 4-9. Further, the ...