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 June 16, 2017. The
Commissioner responded on August 29, 2017. [Doc. 21].
Plaintiff replied on September 28, 2017. [Doc. 24]. The
parties have consented to the undersigned's entering
final judgment in this case. [Doc. 9]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that the Appeals Council erred in
failing to consider Dr. Morgan's reports. Accordingly,
the Motion will be granted, and the case will be remanded for
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) (citing Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992)).
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); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). A court should
meticulously review the entire record but should neither
re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118;
Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. 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.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. 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),
light of this definition for disability, a five-step
sequential evaluation process has been established for
evaluating a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140 (1987). At the first four steps of the SEP, the claimant
has the burden to show that: (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 either (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. At
the fifth step of the evaluation process, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner 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
applied for supplemental security income, a period of
disability, and disability insurance benefits on July 22,
2014. Tr. 36. She alleged a disability-onset date of October
25, 2013. Id. Her claims were denied initially and
on reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). Id. ALJ Ann Farris held a
hearing on March 30, 2016, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr.
36, 54. Plaintiff appeared in person with her attorney. Tr.
36, 54. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an
impartial vocational expert, Karen N. Provine. Tr. 36, 82-87.
issued her unfavorable decision on May 9, 2016. Tr. 48.
Initially, she found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2016. Tr. 39. At step one,
she found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. 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: post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), depressive disorder, and
polysubstance abuse. Tr. 39-40. At step three, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff's impairments met Listing 12.06. Tr.
40-41. However, the ALJ found that if Plaintiff stopped using
substances, her impairments, alone or in combination, would
not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 42-43.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing (assuming cessation of substance use), the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 43-46. The ALJ found
If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, [she] would have
the [RFC] to perform light work (lift 20 pounds occasionally,
stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for
six hours in an eight-hour workday) as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she should
avoid all exposure to hazards and can kneel, crouch and crawl
only occasionally. She can ...