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Sanchez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 9, 2018

PHILIP SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE OR REMAND

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Philip Sanchez's Motion to Reverse and Remand the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Doc. 19. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's motion and remand this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed his claim on January 29, 2015 alleging disability due to diabetes, back problems, bad knees, hypertension, depression, neck problems, bone spurs, rotator cuff problems, muscle weakness, and memory problems. AR 59. Plaintiff alleged his disability onset date was August 17, 2014. AR 59. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on May 21, 2015 and upon reconsideration on August 15, 2015. AR 13. Plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing which the ALJ held on February 3, 2016. AR 13. On March 23, 2016, the ALJ issued his decision denying Plaintiff's claim. AR 25. Because the parties are familiar with record in this case, the Court will only discuss Plaintiff's medical history to the extent that it is relevant to the issues before the Court.

         Plaintiff's medical records show Plaintiff presenting to Dr. Aedra Andrade on numerous occasions throughout 2013-2015. AR 267-320. Although the main subjects of Plaintiff's visit were his diabetes and musculoskeletal pain, Dr. Andrade noted on numerous occasions Plaintiff's depressive disorder and “unspecified mental disorders.” See e.g., AR 267. On September 10, 2013, Dr. Andrade noted that Plaintiff was “still really battling depression, gets mad about everything, very irritable, getting hopeless and frustrated. Hasn't gone to [behavioral health services] due to lack of money for copay.” AR 308. In January 2014 and December 2014, Dr. Andrade noted that Plaintiff was taking medication for his depression and that his depression had stabilized. AR 269, 303. However, in February and April of 2015, Dr. Andrade noted that Plaintiff had run out of depression medication and that his symptoms had returned. AR 313, 317.

         On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff presented to Michael Emery, Ph.D. for a consultative psychology examination. Dr. Emery's report includes significant discussion of Plaintiff's history, specifically in regard to his depressive symptoms. Dr. Emery stated that he “suspect[ed] issues with both depression and anxiety pre-date[d] the health issues, most likely originating in childhood trauma.” AR 339. Importantly, Dr. Emery opined that Plaintiff's “[s]ocial functioning is markedly impaired by interpersonal anxiety, panic episodes, and self-imposed isolation. General adaptation is markedly impaired.” AR 339.

         On May 21, 2015, non-examining, consultative physicians Dr. Lammer and Dr. Wewerka completed a medical assessment of claimant's impairments. AR 59-72. They indicated that Plaintiff had the following moderate limitations: (a) ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods of time, (b) ability to interact appropriately with the general public, and (c) ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. AR 68. Further, on August 15, 2015, non-examining, consultative physicians Dr. Suansilppongse and Dr. Medina completed a medical assessment of Plaintiff. They found that he had the following moderate limitations: (a) ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, (b) ability to carry out detailed instructions, (c) ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods of time, (d) ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods, (e) ability to interact appropriately with the general public, (f) ability to accept instruction and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors, (g) ability to respond appropriately to changes in the workplace; and (h) ability to set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. AR 82-84.

         In his decision, the ALJ gave Dr. Emery's opinions “limited weight.” AR 23. The ALJ stated that although “his opinions on the claimant's abilities for cognition and concentration, persistence and pace are consistent with the evidence of record, his opinions that the claimant had marked limitations in social functioning and with general adaptation are based entirely on the claimant's self-report and are not supported by the overall record.” AR 23.

         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 is presumed disabled and the analysis stops.
(4) If, however, claimant's impairment(s) are not equivalent to a listed impairment, claimant must establish that the impairment(s) prevent her from doing her “past relevant work.” Answering this question involves three phases. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ considers all of the relevant medical and other evidence and determines what is “the most [claimant] can still do despite [her physical and mental] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). This is called the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Id. ยง 404.1545(a)(3). Second, the ALJ determines the physical and mental demands of claimant's past work. Third, the ALJ ...

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