United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Ignacio Greg
Lopez's Motion to Reverse and Remand to Agency for a
Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum. Doc. 18. An
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found Plaintiff not disabled.
Plaintiff argues (1) the ALJ committed error by not applying
the correct legal standards at step two of the Sequential
Evaluation Process; (2) Plaintiff's determined residual
functioning capacity cannot stand in light of information
from Dr. John R. Vigil, whose testimony the Appeals Council
made part of the record; and (3) the ALJ failed to apply the
correct legal analysis at step four and substantial evidence
does not support the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff
can return to past relevant work. Doc. 18 at 1. For the
reasons below, the Court finds that Plaintiff's arguments
are not well-taken and DENIES
filed a Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on May 17, 2013 (AR 100) and a
Title XVI application for supplemental security income on
June 5, 2013 (AR 101), in which he alleged disability
beginning August 28, 2012 (AR 80, 90). ALJ Myriam C.
Fernandez Rice held a hearing on November 12, 2015. AR 25. At
some point, Plaintiff's counsel referred Plaintiff to Dr.
Vigil for an independent medical evaluation and functional
evaluation for disability. AR 493. On December 3, 2015,
Plaintiff requested the ALJ to keep the record open to
receive information from Dr. Vigil (AR 41), who examined
Plaintiff on December 7, 2015 (AR 493). As part of her
January 5, 2016 decision, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's
request to keep the matter open and receive Dr. Vigil's
evaluation. AR 26. On April 7, 2016, the Appeals Council made
Dr. Vigil's evaluation part of the record, but denied
Plaintiff's request for review. AR 5, 8.
the parties are familiar with the record in this case and
have set forth Plaintiff's medical history in their
briefs, the Court will not repeat that medical history. The
Court, however, has reviewed Plaintiff's entire medical
history and will cite to portions of it throughout this
Disability Determination Process
claimant is considered disabled for purposes of Social
Security disability insurance benefits or supplemental
security income if that individual 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); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Social
Security Commissioner has adopted a five-step sequential
analysis to determine whether a person satisfies these
statutory criteria. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. The steps of the analysis are as follows:
(1) Claimant must establish that she is not currently engaged
in “substantial gainful activity.” If claimant is
so engaged, she is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(2) Claimant must establish that she has “a severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . or
combination of impairments” that has lasted for at
least one year. If claimant is not so impaired, she is not
disabled and the analysis stops.
(3) If claimant can establish that her impairment(s) are
equivalent to a listed impairment that has already been
determined to preclude substantial gainful activity, claimant
is presumed disabled and the analysis stops.
(4) If, however, claimant's impairment(s) are not
equivalent to a listed impairment, claimant must establish
that the impairment(s) prevent her from doing her “past
relevant work.” Answering this question involves three
phases. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th
Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ considers all of the relevant
medical and other evidence and determines what is “the
most [claimant] can still do despite [her physical and
mental] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
This is called the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). Id. §
404.1545(a)(3). Second, the ALJ determines the physical and
mental demands of claimant's past work. Third, the ALJ
determines whether, given claimant's RFC, claimant is
capable of meeting those demands. A claimant who is capable
of returning to past relevant work is not disabled and the
(5) At this point, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that claimant is able to “make an adjustment to
other work.” If the Commissioner is unable to make that
showing, claimant is deemed disabled. If, however, the
Commissioner is able to make the required showing, the
claimant is deemed not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 1520(a)(4); Fischer-Ross v.
Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005).
Standard of Review
must affirm the denial of social security benefits unless (1)
the decision is not supported by “substantial
evidence” or (2) the ALJ did not apply the proper legal
standards in reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 933
F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991). In making these
determinations, the reviewing court “neither reweigh[s]
the evidence nor substitute[s] [its] judgment for that of the
agency.'” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270,
1272 (10th Cir. 2008). For example, a court's
disagreement with a decision is immaterial to the substantial
evidence analysis. A decision is supported by substantial
evidence as long as it is supported by “relevant
evidence . . . a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support [the] conclusion.” Casias, 933 F.3d at
800. While this requires more than a mere scintilla of
evidence, Casias, 933 F.3d at 800, “[t]he
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. 2004)).
even if a court agrees with a decision to deny benefits, if
the ALJ's reasons for the decision are improper or are
not articulated with sufficient particularity to allow for
judicial review, the court cannot affirm the decision as
legally correct. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007,
1009 (10th Cir. 1996). As a baseline, the ALJ must support
his or her findings with specific weighing of the evidence
and “the record must demonstrate that the ALJ
considered all of the evidence.” Id. at
1009-10. This does not mean that an ALJ must discuss every
piece of evidence in the record. But, it does require that
the ALJ identify the evidence supporting the decision and
discuss any probative and contradictory evidence that the ALJ
is rejecting. Id. at 1010.
raises a number of issues for review. First, Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ did not apply the correct legal standards at
step two of the sequential evaluation process. Doc. 18 at
17-19. Second, Plaintiff contends that the medical source
statement of examining physician Dr. John Vigil undercuts the
ALJ's RFC determination. Id. at 19-23. Third,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is
capable of returning to his past relevant work is not
supported by substantial evidence or in compliance with the
appropriate legal standards. Id. at 23-26. The Court
will consider these issues in turn.
The ALJ Applied the Correct Legal Standards at Step
argues that, in rejecting Plaintiff's claim of urinary
incontinence as a severe impairment, the ALJ did not
apply the correct legal standards at step two of the
Sequential Evaluation Process. See Doc. 18 at 17-19.
At step two, an ALJ must consider whether an impairment is
severe. Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264, 1266 (10th
Cir. 2016) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii)).
“An impairment is ‘severe' if it
‘significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.' 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). A claimant must make only a de
minimis showing to advance beyond step two.”
Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d 1326, 1330 (10th Cir.
2016). Nonetheless, ...