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 Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum
[Doc. 18] (“Motion”), filed on November 21, 2016.
The Commissioner responded on February 10, 2017. [Doc. 22].
Plaintiff replied on March 3, 2017. [Doc. 25]. The parties
have consented to the undersigned's entering final
judgment in this case. [Doc. 11]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) impermissibly failed to explain why he
rejected a portion of Dr. Mellon's and Dr. Castro's
opinions. Accordingly, the Motion will be granted and the
case remanded for further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (sentence four).
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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
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) 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. § 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 supplemental security income (“SSI”)
on January 18, 2012. Tr. 27. She alleged a disability-onset
date of October 1, 1996. Id. Her claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. Id. ALJ Barry
O'Melinn held a hearing on January 6, 2015, in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 27, 44-74. Plaintiff appeared in
person and was represented by an attorney. Id. The
ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial
vocational expert, Cornelius J. Ford. Id.
issued his unfavorable decision on June 24, 2015. Tr. 37. At
step one he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the date she applied for
benefits. 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:
“obesity; peripheral neuropathy; asthma; diabetes
mellitus; headaches; hypertension; status post cellulitis;
back and foot disorders; anxiety[;] and an affective
disorder.” Tr. 29. At step three the ALJ determined
that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in
combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 29-30.
Because none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically
equaled a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's
RFC. Tr. 30-35. The ALJ found that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §] 416.967(b) that requires her to lift,
carry, push, and or pull 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds
occasionally; stand and or walk for a total of three hours in
an eight-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs;
never climb ladders, ropes o[r] scaffolds; frequently
balance; and occasionally stoop, crouch and crawl.
[Plaintiff] must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors,
dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc., and hazards (machinery,
heights, etc.). [Plaintiff] can understand, carry out and
remember simple instructions and make commensurate
work-related decisions, respond appropriately to supervision,
coworkers and work situations; deal with routine changes in
work setting, maintain concentration, persistence and pace
for up to and including two hours at a time with normal
breaks throughout the workday.
Tr. 30-31 (punctuation in original). At step four the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 36.
Proceeding to step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's
RFC, age, education, and work experience, as well as the
testimony of the VE. He found that Plaintiff could perform
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, namely assembly worker, wire cutter, lens inserter,
and circuit board screener. Tr. 36-37. 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. 37.
requested review from the Appeals Council. She submitted
treatment records to the Appeals Council that had not been
before the ALJ. Tr. 1-2. The new treatment records all
post-dated the ALJ's decision. See Id. The
Appeals Council found that the “new information [was]
about a later time[, and therefore did] not affect the
[ALJ's decision] about whether [Plaintiff was] disabled
beginning on or before June 24, 2015.” Tr. 2. The
Appeals Council ...