United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION
Fashing United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Jetto
Dorsainville's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing (Doc. 18), which was fully briefed on May 31, 2017.
Docs. 22, 23, 24. The parties consented to my entering final
judgment in this case. Docs. 4, 6, 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
standards in weighing the opinion of non-examining state
agency psychiatric consultant Dr. Scott Walker. The Court
therefore GRANTS Mr. Dorsainville's motion and remands
this case to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with
Standard of Review
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).
“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 and
brackets omitted). The Court must meticulously review the
entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A 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 the 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
ALJ'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)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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. § 404.1505(a).
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) the claimant is not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity;” (2)
the claimant 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) the impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1260-61.
If the claimant cannot show that his or her impairment meets
or equals a Listing but proves that he or she is unable to
perform his or her “past relevant work, ” the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and
work experience. Id.
Background and Procedural History
Dorsainville, currently age 35, graduated high school, and
served in the United States Air Force for fifteen years. AR
151, 195. Mr. Dorsainville filed an application for
disability insurance benefits on September 18, 2014-alleging
disability since August 11, 2014 due to degenerative
arthritis, chest and neck pain, asthma/bronchitis, left hip
sprain, chronic abdominal pain, post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), headaches, hypertension, sleep
apnea, and gastroesophageal reflux disease
(“GERD”). AR 151-57, 194. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied his claim initially
on January 6, 2015. AR 94-97. The SSA denied his claims on
reconsideration on April 8, 2015. AR 99-101. Mr. Dorsainville
requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 102-03. On November 4,
2015, ALJ Myriam C. Fernandez Rice held a hearing. AR 37-66.
ALJ Fernandez Rice issued her unfavorable decision on
December 1, 2015. AR 17-36.
found that Mr. Dorsainville was insured for disability
benefits through March 31, 2019. AR 22. At step one, the ALJ
found that Mr. Bennett had not engaged in substantial,
gainful activity since August 11, 2014. Id. Because
Mr. Dorsainville had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity for at least twelve months, the ALJ proceeded to
step two. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr.
Dorsainville had the following severe impairments:
“asthma; sleep apnea; mild degenerative lumbar disc
disease; hypertension; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
and alcohol abuse addiction disorder.” Id. At
step three, the ALJ found that none of Mr. Dorsainville's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing.
22-24. Because the ALJ found that none of the impairments met
a Listing, the ALJ assessed Mr. Dorsainville's RFC. AR
24-30. The ALJ found that:
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a
limited range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
• The claimant is able to lift and/or carry up to 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
• The claimant is able to stand and/or walk and sit for
up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks;
• The claimant should avoid even moderate exposure to
environmental irritants, such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases,