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. 18] (“Motion”), filed on June 19, 2017. The
Commissioner responded on August 17, 2017. [Doc. 20].
Plaintiff replied on August 31, 2017. [Doc. 21]. The parties
have consented to the undersigned's entering final
judgment in this case. [Doc. 7]. Having meticulously reviewed
the entire record and being fully advised in the premises,
the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to apply the correct legal
standard in weighing the opinion of the treating
psychiatrist, Dr. Nickell. Accordingly, the Motion will be
granted, and the case will be remanded for further
proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence
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 reweigh 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) (quoting
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); 20 C.F.R.
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; 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);
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 period of disability and disability insurance
benefits on February 10, 2012. Tr. 22. She alleged a
disability-onset date of January 31, 2009. Id. Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ.
Id. ALJ Eric Weiss held a hearing on April 23, 2015,
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Id. Plaintiff appeared
in person with her attorney and her husband, John Amos Reid.
Tr. 22, 39. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, Mr. Reid,
and an impartial vocational expert, Mary Diane Weber. Tr. 22,
issued his unfavorable decision on May 21, 2015. Tr. 34.
Initially, he found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through June 30, 2013. Tr. 24. At step one, he
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity between her alleged onset date and her date last
insured. 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:
“an affective disorder (variously diagnosed as bipolar
affective disorder type I, bipolar disorder unspecified, and
seasonal affective disorder) and an anxiety related disorder
(variously diagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder and
anxiety disorder)[.]” Id. At step three, the
ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or
in combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. Tr.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
27-33. The ALJ found that, through her date last insured:
[Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at
all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: she was able to understand, carry out, and
remember simple instructions and make commensurate work
related decisions. She was able to maintain concentration,
persistence[, ] and pace for up to and including two hours at
a time throughout the 8-hour workday with normal breaks. She
was limited to a low stress work environment, defined as a