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 for
a closed period and that the proper legal standards were
applied. For the following reasons, the Court will
DENY Plaintiff's Motion.
August 20, 2008, Plaintiff applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging
that his disability began on May 13, 2006. He based his
application on the following impairments: (i) bilateral
degenerative disc disease, (ii) rheumatoid arthritis
affecting his knees, and (iii) chronic diverticulitis.
Administrative R. (“AR”) 101-04. Plaintiff's
applications were initially denied on January 5, 2009 [AR
148-154], and upon reconsideration on July 31, 2009. AR
159-164. Plaintiff then filed a written request for a hearing
and on May 21, 2010, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Barbara Licha Perkins held a hearing in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Plaintiff testified at the hearing
and was represented by attorney Gary Martone.
April 28, 2011, ALJ Perkins issued a partially favorable
decision in which she granted Plaintiff a closed period of
benefits from May 13, 2006, to January 1, 2008. See
AR 105-123. Plaintiff requested ALJ Perkins's decision be
reviewed by the Appeals Council [AR 239-240], and, on July
22, 2013, the Appeals Council remanded his case back to an
ALJ for review on the issue of whether Plaintiff's
medical condition had improved such that granting him only a
closed period of benefits was appropriate. AR 141-46.
January 16, 2014, ALJ Myriam Fernandez Rice held a second
hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Plaintiff testified at
the hearing and was represented by attorney Feliz Martone.
The ALJ also heard testimony from Judith Beard, an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”). AR 71-100. On March 27,
2014, ALJ Fernandez Rice issued a partially favorable
decision in which she upheld ALJ Perkins's decision to
grant Plaintiff a closed period of benefits. See AR
8-28. She also found that Plaintiff “once again became
disabled for supplemental security income benefits only under
section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act beginning on
his 55th birthday of December 16, 2013.” AR 28.
requested the ALJ's decision be reviewed by the Appeals
Council, and, on February 25, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied his request for review. AR 1-3. Consequently, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. Plaintiff timely appealed the
Commissioner's decision to this Court on May 2, 2016.
Pl.'s Compl., 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
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS
advances two arguments. His first argument focuses on the
date the ALJ determined he was last insured - that being
March 31, 2012. As a result of the ALJ's calculation, he
argues there is an un-adjudicated period from March 31, 2012
to December 31, 2013. Pl.'s Mot. 8-9. Second, he argues
that the ALJ committed reversible error in finding that
awarding only a closed period of benefits was appropriate
because his medical condition had not improved on January 1,
2008, such that he could return to work. Id. at
Commissioner responds by first arguing that the ALJ did use
the correct date that Plaintiff was last insured. She further
states that using this date is most beneficial to Plaintiff.
Def.'s Resp. 4-5, ECF No. 24. Next, she argues that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that
Plaintiff's medical condition had improved as of January
1, 2008, and therefore he was able to work at that time.
Id. at 5-8.
March 27, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision affirming
Plaintiff's closed period of benefits ending January 1,
2008. She did, however, determine that Plaintiff once again
became disabled for supplemental security income benefits
beginning on December 16, 2013. AR 28. In doing so, the ALJ
conducted the eight-step sequential evaluation process, as
dictated by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594, for determining
whether a claimant's disability has ended. AR 13. As a
preliminary matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through March 31, 2012. Moving then to the sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity as of January
1, 2008, the date that his disability had ended. AR 15. Prior
to step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
medically determinable impairments: (i) degenerative joint
disease of the bilateral knees, status-post right knee
arthroscopy and partial meniscectomy, (ii) lateral and medial
meniscal tears in the left knee, (iii) intermittent rash,
(iv) osteoarthritis of the bilateral fingers, (v)
diverticulosis and a history of chronic diverticulosis, (vi)
hypertension, (vii) hyperlipidemia, (viii) a history of
onychomycosis, status-post left great toenail removal, (ix)
bilateral foraminal stenosis at ¶ 5 and slipped discs,
(x) left and right subacromial bursitis, (xi) rheumatoid
arthritis, and (xii) alcohol dependence. AR 15.
two, the ALJ concluded that, since January 1, 2008, Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. To reach this
conclusion, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's impairments
under Listings 1.02A, 1.02B, 14.09, 1.04, 5.06, and 12.09. AR
16-17. The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's knee condition
under Listing 1.02A (major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to
any cause)) and found that there was no evidence to suggest
that Plaintiff could not ambulate effectively and therefore
found that Plaintiff did not meet the Listing. AR 16. The ALJ
next evaluated Plaintiff's osteoarthritis and rheumatoid
arthritis in his hands under Listing 1.02B (major dysfunction
of a joint(s) (due to any cause)) and Listing 14.09
(inflammatory arthritis), and found that there was no
evidence that these conditions had resulted in inability to
perform fine and gross movements effectively. Therefore,
Plaintiff did not meet either Listing 1.02B or Listing 14.09.
then evaluated Plaintiff's back condition under Listing
1.04 (disorders of the spine) and found that, since there was
no evidence of nerve root compression or the spinal cord,
Plaintiff did not meet the criteria for Listing 1.04. The ALJ
next assessed to evaluate Plaintiff's diverticulitis
under Listing 5.06 (inflammatory bowel disease) and found
that there was “no evidence of obstruction of stenotic
areas in the small intestine or colon requiring
hospitalization for intestinal decompression or for surgery
and occurring on at least two occasions at least 60 days
apart within a consecutive six-month period.” AR 16.
Finally, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's alcohol dependence
under Listing 12.09 (substance abuse disorders) and found
that his condition did not meet the criteria of Listing
12.09. AR 17.
three, the ALJ concluded that medical improvement had
occurred as of January 1, 2008. At step four, the ALJ
determined that, as of January 1, 2008, Plaintiff's
impairments at the time that he was initially found to be
disabled, April 28, 2011, had decreased in medical severity
such that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a limited range of
light work. The ALJ determined that this medical ...