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 a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum
[Doc. 17] (“Motion”), filed on April 24, 2017.
The Commissioner responded on June 7, 2017. [Doc. 19].
Plaintiff replied on July 18, 2017. [Doc. 20]. 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 remand is not warranted. Plaintiff fails
to show that the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision is not supported by substantial
evidence or is the product of an incorrect legal standard.
Accordingly, the Motion will be denied, and
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 supplemental security income and period of
disability and disability insurance benefits on November 23,
2009, which was also the date she alleged she became
disabled. Tr. 20, 33. Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 134. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an ALJ. Id. ALJ Michelle K. Lindsay held a
hearing on February 24, 2012, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and
ultimately denied her claims. Tr. 134, 148. The Appeals
Council, however, granted review on February 28, 2014, and
remanded the matter to ALJ Lindsay for further proceedings.
Lindsay held a second hearing on December 5, 2014. Tr. 17.
Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by a
non-attorney. Id. The ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Leslie J. White. Tr. 17, 93-125. The ALJ
issued her unfavorable decision on April 8, 2015. Tr. 33.
Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through December 31, 2014. Tr. 20. At
step one she 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 she
found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “history of compression fracture of L2
with surgeries including hardware implantation and subsequent
removal; depression; anxiety; history of polysubstance abuse;
opiate and benzodiazepine dependence.” Tr. 20. At step
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 20-22.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
22-31. The ALJ found that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform less than the full range
of light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §§]
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, [Plaintiff] is able
to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; push and/or pull within the strength limitation
cited; and can sit, stand[, ] and/or walk for six hours out
of an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally climb stairs
and ramps, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; but can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. In addition, she
has mental limitations that allow her to be able to maintain
attention and concentration to perform only routine,
repetitive tasks for two hours at a time, without requiring
redirection to task, and requires work involving no more than
occasional change in the routine work setting; requires a job
that involves only occasional contact with the general
Tr. 22-23. At step four the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
not return to her past relevant work. Tr. 32. Accordingly,
the ALJ proceeded to step five, where she relied on testimony
by the VE to find that, based on Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, she was capable of
performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy. Tr. 32-33. Plaintiff requested review
from the Appeals Council again, but that request was denied
on August 3, 2016. Tr. 1. Plaintiff timely filed the instant
action on October 5, 2016. [Doc. 1].
fails to show reversible error in the evaluation Dr.
Sautter's opinion. She also fails to show reversible
error at step five or in the ALJ's credibility ...