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Callan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 13, 2018

PETER G. CALLAN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing, regarding the Social Security Agency (“SSA”) decision to deny Plaintiff Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Doc. 20. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion, and REMANDS this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on December 24, 2014 with a protective filing date of November 18, 2014.[1] AR at 174-78. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of March 1, 2012 and that his disability stemmed from tumors removed from his feet, nerve damage on both feet, and high blood pressure. AR at 54. He later added anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, headaches, neuropathy, inflammation of the feet, and back, knee, hip and neck pain to his alleged impairments. AR at 65. His application was denied on initial review on April 10, 2015 and again on reconsideration on December 17, 2015. AR at 54-76, 100-04. On January 28, 2016, Plaintiff requested a hearing on the determination by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and the hearing took place on October 20, 2016. AR at 20-53, 121-23. On December 14, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR at 80-89.

         Plaintiff appealed the denial of his application to the Appeals Council, which denied review on March 2, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR at 1-6. Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on April 11, 2017, seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Doc. 1.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a court may review a final decision of the Commissioner only to determine whether it (1) is supported by “substantial evidence” and (2) comports with the proper legal standards. Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991). “In reviewing the ALJ's decision, we neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency.” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

         Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Casias, 933 F.3d at 800. “The record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996). “[I]n addition to discussing the evidence supporting his decision, the ALJ must also discuss the uncontroverted evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well as significantly probative evidence he rejects.” Id. at 1010. “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).

         III. ALJ Evaluation

         A. Legal Standard

         For purposes of SSI benefits, an individual is disabled when 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To determine whether a person satisfies these criteria, the SSA has developed a five-step test. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the Commissioner finds an individual disabled at any step, the next step is not taken. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).

         At the first four steps of the analysis, the claimant has the burden to show: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity;” (2) she 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 that either (3) her impairments meet or equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively disabling impairments or (4) she is unable to perform her “past relevant work.” Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005).

         Step four of this analysis consists of three phases. See Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) in light of “all of the relevant medical and other evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3). A claimant's RFC is “the most [he or she] can still do despite [physical and mental] limitations.” Id. § 416.945 (a)(1). Second, the ALJ determines the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past work. “To make the necessary findings, the ALJ must obtain adequate ‘factual information about those work demands which have a bearing on the medically established limitations.'” Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1024 (quoting Social Security Ruling 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at *3 (S.S.A. Jan. 1, 1982)). Third, the ALJ determines whether, in light of the RFC, the claimant is capable of meeting those demands. See id. at 1023, 1025.

         If the ALJ concludes that the claimant cannot engage in past relevant work, he or she proceeds to step five of the evaluation process. At step five, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy, considering the ...

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