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. 16] (“Motion”), filed on July 11, 2017. The
Commissioner responded on September 18, 2017. [Doc. 20].
Plaintiff replied on October 2, 2017. [Doc. 21]. 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”) impermissibly failed to explain why he
rejected portions of Dr. Walker's and Dr. Castro's
opinions. Accordingly, the Motion will be granted and the
case remanded for further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (sentence four).
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 he 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)
he is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (2) he 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) his
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings”of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) he is unable to perform his “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 he cannot show that his impairment meets
or equals a Listing, but he proves that he is unable to
perform his “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 his 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 July 6, 2012, and for supplemental security
income on September 26, 2012. Tr. 10. He alleged a
disability-onset date of January 1, 2007. Id. His
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ.
Id. ALJ Barry O'Melinn held a hearing on April
20, 2015, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 10, 46-74.
Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by an
attorney. Tr. 10, 46, 49. The ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert, Leslie J.
White. Tr. 10, 68-73.
issued his unfavorable decision on June 23, 2015. Tr. 23.
Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through December 31, 2009. Tr. 12. At
step one he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the onset date of his
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: “affective disorder; anxiety;
schizophrenia; obesity; right shoulder disorder; back
disorder; and hepatitis c.” Id. At step three
the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's impairments,
alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a Listing.
none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled
a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
15-20. 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),
occasionally lifting and/or carrying up to 20 pounds,
frequently lifting and/or carrying up to 10 pounds, standing
and/or walking with normal breaks for a total of at least six
hours in an eight hour workday, sitting for at least six
hours in an eight hour work day. [Plaintiff] is limited to
never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but could
frequently climb ramps or stairs. [Plaintiff] has no
limitation in the ability to balance, but could only
occasionally stoop, frequently kneel, occasionally crouch,
and frequently crawl. Additionally, [Plaintiff] is limited to
frequent bilateral overhead reaching. [Plaintiff]'s push
and pull operation of hand and foot controls is unlimited,
except as limited in lifting or carrying. Moreover,
[Plaintiff] is limited to understanding, remembering, and
carrying out simple instructions and making commensurate
work-related decisions. [Plaintiff] can respond appropriately
to supervision, co-workers, and work situations, deal with
routine changes in work setting, maintain concentration,
persistence and pace for up to and ...