United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Stanley Donald
Shaw's Motion to Reverse and Remand to Agency for
Rehearing, filed September 6, 2016, and fully briefed on
November 23, 2016. Docs. 18, 20, 22, 23. The parties have
consented to my entering a final judgment in this case. Docs.
5, 7, 8. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and
being fully advised in the premises, I find that the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to apply
the correct legal standards when assessing the agency
consultants' medical opinions. I therefore GRANT Mr.
Shaw's motion and remand this case to the Commissioner
for further proceedings.
Standard of Review
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).
"The 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 and
brackets omitted). The Court must meticulously review the
entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A 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 the Court
may not reweigh 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
ALJ'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)
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 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 must show: (1) the claimant is not
engaged in "substantial gainful activity;" (2) the
claimant 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) the impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling
impairments; or (4) the claimant is unable to
perform his or her "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at
1261. If the claimant cannot show that his or her impairment
meets or equals a Listing but proves that he or she is unable
to perform his or her "past relevant work, " the
burden then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to show
that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC"), age, education, and
work experience. Id.
Background and Procedural History
Shaw is a 52-year-old man with a ninth-grade education and a
history of working in construction. AR 128, 221, 247, 275.
Mr. Shaw lives with his ex-wife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
AR 129, 140-41, 245. Mr. Shaw initially applied for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits on
March 2, 2012, alleging disability since July 1,
2005. AR 221-26. Mr. Shaw alleged he was
disabled due to injuries to his neck, back, pelvis, elbow,
and ribs, numbness and loss of feeling in his arms, hands,
feet, and legs, blindness in his left eye, memory lapses,
problems with balance, and weight restrictions. AR 246.
Shaw's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR
152-67, 168-85, 193-96. On May 30, 2014, ALJ Michelle Lindsay
conducted a hearing. AR 122-51. ALJ Lindsay issued her
unfavorable decision on September 25, 2014. AR 103-21. At
step one, ALJ Lindsay found that Mr. Shaw had not engaged in
substantial, gainful activity since his application date of
January 13, 2012. AR 108. Because Mr. Shaw had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months, ALJ
Lindsay proceeded to step two. At step two, ALJ Lindsay found
that Mr. Shaw suffered from the severe impairments of a
"history of fractured elbow, fractured pelvis; disc
disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, status post
cervical fusion; compression fractures at T11 and L3; mild to
moderate osteoarthritis of the hips; and dysthymic
disorder due to general medical
conditions." Id. At step three, ALJ Lindsay
found that none of Mr. Shaw's impairments-alone or in
combination- met or medically equaled a Listing. AR 108-10.
none of the impairments met a Listing, ALJ Lindsay assess Mr.
Shaw's RFC and found that:
[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that the
claimant can only occasionally climb stairs and ramps,
balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; is limited to frequent
fingering and feeling; must avoid frequent exposure to
extreme cold and humidity; must avoid frequent exposure to
vibration; and must avoid unprotected heights. Further, he is
able to understand, remember, and carry[ ]out only simple
instructions, and is able to maintain attention and
concentration to perform only simple tasks for two hours at a
time without requiring redirection to task.
AR 110. At step four, ALJ Lindsay determined that Mr. Shaw
was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 114. At step
five, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, ALJ
Lindsay found that Mr. Shaw could perform the jobs of
cashier, fast food worker, and mail clerk. AR 115.
Accordingly, ALJ Lindsay found that Mr. Shaw "is capable
of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists