United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
HONORABLE GREGORY J. FOURATT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's “Motion
to Reverse and Remand to Agency for Rehearing, with
Supporting Memorandum” (“Motion”) [ECF No.
18]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record,
considered the parties' arguments, and being otherwise
fully advised, the Court finds that substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits and
that the proper legal standards were applied. For the
following reasons, the Court will DENY
August 10, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging
that her disability began on April 5, 2012. Administrative R.
(“AR”) 197-209. She based her application for
disability benefits on the following impairments: (i)
congestive heart failure, (ii) post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), (iii) bipolar disorder, and (iv)
depression. AR 231. Plaintiff's applications were
initially denied on January 23, 2013 [AR 125-131], and upon
reconsideration on April 29, 2013 [AR 132-136]. Plaintiff
then filed a written request for a hearing and on May 28,
2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Donna
Montano held a hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Plaintiff
testified at the hearing and was represented by attorney
Feliz Martone. Additionally, the ALJ heard testimony from
Mary Diane Weber, an impartial vocational expert, and Susan
Bolton, Plaintiff's case manager. AR 31-74.
September 23, 2014, ALJ Montano issued her decision, finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act
and therefore ineligible for disability insurance benefits or
supplemental security income. AR 25. Plaintiff filed a
request for review by the Appeals Council, which was denied
on April 12, 2016. AR 1-11. Consequently, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff timely filed this appeal on May 19, 2016.
See Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1.
filed subsequent applications for SSDI and SSI benefits on
May 12, 2016. Pl.'s Mot. 3. On October 6, 2016,
Plaintiff's application for SSI benefits was approved.
Id. at 4.
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 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 not
prevented from performing 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, 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).
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