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Villanueva v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 10, 2018

CARLOS JOSE VILLANUEVA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Carlos Jose Villanueva's Motion to Reverse and Remand the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Doc. 19. The Court concludes that the ALJ failed to consider all moderate limitations a state medical consultant found Plaintiff to have and, as a result, this case must be remanded for further consideration. Accordingly, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion and remand this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for period of disability and disability insurance benefits on January 20, 2015. Administrative Record (“AR”) 10. He alleged a disability onset date of May 9, 2014. Id. After his claim was denied on initial review and upon reconsideration, an ALJ held a hearing on February 19, 2016. Id.

         On March 15, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 10-20. In arriving at his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: (1) kidney/renal stones with renal colic and pain; (2) anxiety/acute stress disorder; (3) panic disorder without agoraphobia; (4) depression; (5) posttraumatic stress disorder; and (6) adjustment disorder with anxiety/depression. AR 13. The ALJ, however, found that these impairments, individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 13-14.

         Because he found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet a Listing, the ALJ then went on to assess Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). AR 15. The ALJ stated that

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work (lift, carry, push and pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stand/walk for six hours each out of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday) as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except he may never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant must avoid all exposure to hazards such as dangerous machinery and unsecured heights. He is fully capable of learning, remembering and performing simple and detailed work tasks which are performed in a routine, low-stress work environment, defined as one in which there is a regular pace, few workplace changes, and no "over-the-shoulder" supervision. He can attend and concentrate for two hours at a time with regular breaks. He can interact appropriately with supervisors, co-workers and the public.

AR 15. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 19. Nonetheless, based in part on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ then determined at step five that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. AR 20.

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council and the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1. This appeal followed. Doc. 19.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Disability Determination Process

         A claimant is considered disabled for purposes of Social Security disability insurance benefits if that individual 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). The Social Security Commissioner has adopted a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a person satisfies these statutory criteria. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The steps of the analysis are as follows:

(1) Claimant must establish that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If Claimant is so engaged, she is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(2) Claimant must establish that she has “a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . or combination of impairments” that has lasted for at least one year. If Claimant is not so impaired, she is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(3) If Claimant can establish that her impairment(s) are equivalent to a listed impairment that has already been determined to preclude substantial gainful activity, Claimant ...

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