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 and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the
Alternative, for Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum [Doc.
18] (“Motion”), filed on October 4, 2016. The
Commissioner responded on January 6, 2017. [Doc. 26].
Plaintiff replied on January 19, 2017. [Doc. 27]. 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 Plaintiff fails to meet her burden as
the movant to show that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards
or that his decision was not supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied and the
Commissioner's final decision affirmed.
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). 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). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. 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.” Id. 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 she 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. § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A);
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four
steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1)
she is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (2) she 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 (3) her
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings”of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) she is unable to perform her “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If she cannot show that her impairment
meets or equals a Listing, but she proves that she is unable
to perform her “past relevant work, ” the burden
of proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on January 9,
2013. Tr. 10. She alleged a disability-onset date of January
1, 2003. Id. Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an ALJ. Id. ALJ John W. Rolph held a hearing
on October 20, 2014. Id., Tr. 27-60. Plaintiff
appeared with her attorney. Tr. 10, 27. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Leslie White. Tr. 10, 32-58.
issued his unfavorable decision on December 16, 2014. Tr. 21.
He found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2008. Tr. 12. At step one he found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the onset date of her alleged disability. Id.
Because Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity for at least 12 months, the ALJ proceeded to step
two. Id. There he found that Plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: back problems, myofascial
pain, obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, mild left hearing
loss, chronic alcohol abuse/dependence, anxiety, panic
disorder without agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), and obsessive compulsive disorder
(“OCD”). Tr. 13.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 13-14. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 14-19. The ALJ found
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except
she is able to lift, carry, push and pull up to 20 pounds
occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently in light work as
defined by the regulations. She may occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, but may
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She must avoid more
than occasional exposure to extreme cold, noise, vibration,
and hazards such as dangerous machinery and unsecured
heights. She can perform work tasks that do not require fine
hearing discrimination. She is fully capable of learning,
remembering and performing simple, routine, and repetitive
work tasks, involving simple work instructions, which are
performed in a routine, predictable, and low stress work
environment, defined as one in which there is a regular pace,
few work place changes, and no over the shoulder supervision.
She can maintain concentration, persistence and pace for two
hours at a time with normal breaks. She may interact
appropriately with supervisors and coworkers on an occasional
and superficial basis. She should have minimal to no contact
with the public. She will perform optimally in work tasks
that do not require teamwork, and that allow her to work
independently of others.
Tr. 14-15. At step four the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
unable to perform any of her past relevant work as a fast
food worker. Tr. 20. At step five the ALJ found that, based
on Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience
and the testimony of the VE, Plaintiff could perform work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy,
namely cleaner/housekeeper and marker. Tr. 20-21. Ultimately,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability,
as defined by the Act, during the relevant time period, and
he denied the claims. Tr. 21. The Appeals Council ...