United States District Court, D. New Mexico
KRISTIN A. HOWARD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION TO REVERSE OR REMAND
R. SWEAZEA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks review of the Commissioner's determination that she
is not entitled to disability benefits under Title II or
Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434, §§ 1381-1383f. With the consent of the
parties to conduct dispositive proceedings in this matter,
see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the
Court has considered Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse or
Remand Administrative Agency Decision and Memorandum in
Support, filed June 6, 2017 (Doc. 19), the Commissioner's
response in opposition, filed August 4, 2017 (Doc. 20), and
Plaintiff's reply, filed August 21, 2017 (Doc. 21).
Having so considered, the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES that
Plaintiff's request to reverse and remand for payment of
benefits is not well-taken and should be denied. The Court
further FINDS and CONCLUDES that Plaintiff's alternative
request to remand for rehearing should be granted as
24, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II
disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental
security income, alleging that she had been disabled since
May 13, 2012, due to deep vein thrombosis in left leg,
pulmonary emboli, difficulty walking, difficulty sitting in
chair, difficulty standing for long periods, and circulation
damage in left leg. AR 65, 71. On October 18, 2013, it was
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and her claim was
denied. AR 77, 78. This determination was affirmed on
February 13, 2014, AR 97, 98, and a subsequent hearing before
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), held on July
14, 2015, again ended in a denial. AR 22-32. The ALJ's
decision became final when, on November 29, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-4.
See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000)
(explaining that if the Council denies a request for a
review, the ALJ's opinion becomes the final decision).
See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.900(a)(1)-(5).
review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to
determining “whether substantial evidence supports the
factual findings and whether the ALJ applied the correct
legal standards.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d
1326, 1330 (10th Cir. 2016). See also 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). “Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Langley v. Barnhart,
373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted).
“Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence in the record or constitutes mere
conclusion.” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). The Court
must examine the record as a whole, “including anything
that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in
order to determine if the substantiality test has been
met.” Id. at 162. “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.”
Byron v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 1232, 1235 (10th Cir.
1984) (quotation omitted). Even so, it is not the function of
the Court to review Plaintiff's claims de novo, and the
Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment
for that of the ALJ. Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392,
1395 (10th Cir. 1994).
” as defined by the Social Security Act, is the
inability “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(3)(A); § 423(d)(1)(A). The Act further adds
that for the purposes of § 1382c(3)(A) and §
an individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(3)(B); § 423(d)(2)(A).
evaluating a disability claim under this standard, the ALJ
employs a five-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. In the first four steps, the claimant must
prove that he or she (1) is not engaged in any substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe physical or mental
impairment, or combination of impairments, that meets the
twelve month duration requirement; (3) has an impairment, or
combination thereof, that meets or equals a listing in 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1; and (4) is unable to engage
in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iv). If the disability claim survives step
four, the burden shifts to the ALJ to prove, at step five,
that the claimant is able to adjust to other jobs presently
available in significant numbers in the national economy. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). See also Wilson v.
Astrue, 602 F.3d 1136, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010).
four and five are based on an assessment of the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) which gauges “what the claimant is
still functionally capable of doing on a regular and
continuing basis, despite his impairments.”
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751 (10th Cir.
1988). See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).