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Cooper v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 22, 2017

JEFFREY MARC COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 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 Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum [Doc. 18] (“Motion”), filed on August 2, 2017. The Commissioner responded on September 27, 2017. [Doc. 20]. Plaintiff replied on October 25, 2017. [Doc. 21]. 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 Plaintiff fails to meet his burden as the movant to show that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards or that his decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied and the Commissioner's final decision affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the Commissioner's final decision[1] 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 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. 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 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).

         When 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) 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[2] 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); 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 RFC, age, education, and work experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.

         Background

         Plaintiff is already receiving supplemental security income (“SSI”) based on his disability. He filed his application for SSI in April of 2010. He submitted records from his treating psychologist, Dr. Reed, including a 2011 opinion that Plaintiff's functional limitations had been severe enough to meet a listing since 2008. Tr. 231-34; Tr. 232 (“As of 2008, he was not able to be competitively employed.”). ALJ James A. Burke was persuaded by Dr. Reed's 2011 opinion and found Plaintiff disabled as of April 2010. Tr. 34. Claims for SSI cannot be granted prior to the application date, 20 C.F.R. § 416.501, so ALJ Burke did not consider whether Plaintiff became disabled prior to April of 2010.

         Plaintiff filed another application for benefits in March of 2014, which is the subject of this appeal. See Tr. 21. He claimed that he actually became disabled in 1997, when he was 18 years old. See Id. If he were able to establish his disability prior to turning 22 on January 18, 2001, he would be entitled to child insurance benefits (“CIB”) on his father's earnings record. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a). If he were able to establish his disability prior the expiration of his own insured status on June 30, 2004, he would be entitled to disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on his own earnings record. Accordingly, with respect to the appeal at bar, the relevant time periods are prior to January 18, 2001 (for the CIB claim), and prior to Plaintiff's date last insured, June 30, 2004 (for the DIB claim). [Doc. 18] at 2; Tr. 24

         Medical and Other Evidence

         Plaintiff submitted only a few pieces of evidence to support his March 2014 application. He submitted his treatment records from Dr. Reed, including Dr. Reed's 2011 opinion, Tr. 231- 34, and a few records dated August 5 and ...


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