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. 20] (“Motion”), filed on July 6, 2017. The
Commissioner responded on September 5, 2017. [Doc. 22].
Plaintiff replied on September 19, 2017. [Doc. 23]. 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 the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to provide a legally adequate
evaluation of Plaintiff's alleged symptoms. Accordingly,
the Motion will be granted and the case 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 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 period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on February 2,
2012. Tr. 10. She alleged a disability-onset date of
September 19, 2008. Id. Her claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. Id. ALJ David R.
Gutierrez held a hearing on June 25, 2015, in Santa Fe, New
Mexico. Tr. 10, 25-49. Plaintiff appeared in person and was
represented by an attorney. Tr. 10, 25-49. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert,
Mary Diane Weber. Tr. 10, 25.
issued his unfavorable decision on August 7, 2015. Tr. 19.
Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through March 31, 2011. Tr. 12. At step
one he 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 he found that
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease and post-laminectomy syndrome.
Id. At step three the ALJ determined that none of
Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or
medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 13.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
13-16. The ALJ found that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except
she can sit up to 6 hours; stand/walk up to 6 hours; cannot
push or pull; due to lower back problems, can occasionally
climb ropes, ladders[, ] or scaffolding; can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can occasionally
reach overhead bilaterally, due to back and neck problems;
can constantly handle, reach, finger, and feel bilaterally;
would need to avoid extreme cold and heat; avoid concentrated