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Camacho v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 27, 2017

KATHRYN ANN CAMACHO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS 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

         The standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the Commissioner's final decision[2] 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).

         “Substantial 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. 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 omitted).

         Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process

         In 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).

         When 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”[3] 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.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff 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. Tr. 157-59.

         ALJ 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.

         Because 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 public.

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].

         Analysis

         Plaintiff 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 ...


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