United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse for Payment of Benefits, or in the Alternative, to
Remand for a Rehearing [Doc. 18] (“Motion”),
filed on September 20, 2016. The Commissioner responded on
November 14, 2016. [Doc. 20]. Plaintiff replied on November
23, 2016. [Doc. 21]. The parties have consented to the
undersigned's entering final judgment in this case. [Doc.
8]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to apply
the correct legal standards in evaluating the opinions of Dr.
Morgan, Dr. Blacharsh, and Dr. Cherry. Accordingly, the
Motion will be granted, and the case will be remanded for
further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. 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)).
If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
findings and the correct legal standards were applied, the
Commissioner's decision stands and the plaintiff is not
entitled to relief. 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). 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.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. The 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. While a court may not re-weigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo, its examination of the record as a whole
must include “anything that may undercut or detract
from the [Commissioner]'s findings in order to determine
if the substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“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) (citing
Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide
this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must
establish that he 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
light of this definition for disability, a five-step
sequential evaluation process has been established for
evaluating a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the
first four steps of the evaluation process, the claimant has
the burden to show that: (1) he is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; and (2)
he 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 either (3) his impairment(s) either meet or
equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) he is unable to
perform his “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at
1261. At the fifth step of the evaluation process, the burden
of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
is able to perform other work in the national economy,
considering his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for supplemental security income on June 21, 2012.
Tr. 19. He alleged a disability-onset date of August 25,
2011. Id. His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an ALJ. Id. ALJ Ann Farris held a hearing on
June 11, 2014. Id. Plaintiff appeared with his
attorney. Id. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff
and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Mary
Diane Weber. Tr. 19, 34-67.
issued her unfavorable decision on September 26, 2014. Tr.
28. At step one, she found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since he applied for benefits.
Tr. 21. Because Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity for at least 12 months, the ALJ proceeded to
step two. Id. There, she found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: asthma, an
antisocial personality disorder, a post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), and a major depressive
disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none
of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met
or medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 22- 23.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
23-26. The ALJ found that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §] 416.967(b) except he should avoid more
than moderate levels of pulmonary irritants. He is able to
make simple decisions with few workplace changes with no
exposure to the public. He can have superficial contact with