United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Brief in
Support of Motion to Remand or Reverse (Doc. 17),
filed on August 29, 2017. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to me
serving as the presiding judge and entering final judgment.
See Docs. 6, 7, 9. Having considered the record,
submissions of counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds
Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken and will be denied.
Elizabeth Aguilar (Plaintiff) filed an application with the
Social Security Administration for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act on
December 13, 2012. Administrative Record (AR) at 186-87.
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of May 15, 2008.
See AR at 186. Because Plaintiff's earning
record showed that she had “acquired sufficient
quarters of coverage to remain insured through March 31,
2033[, ]” Plaintiff was required to “establish
disability on or before that date in order to be entitled to
a period of disability and [DIB].” AR at 13.
Determination Services determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled both initially (AR at 68-82) and on reconsideration
(AR at 83-102). Plaintiff requested a hearing with an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the merits of her
application. AR at 113-14. Both Plaintiff and a vocational
expert (VE) testified during the second de novo
hearing. See AR at 33-67. ALJ Myriam C.
Fernandez Rice issued an unfavorable decision on October 8,
2015. AR at 10-32. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review
of Hearing Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 8-9),
which the council denied on October 31, 2016 (AR at 1-5).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331
F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).
Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings
claimant seeking disability benefits must establish that 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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
The Commissioner must use a sequential five-step evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4); see also Wall v. Astrue, 561
F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
claimant has the burden at the first four steps of the
process 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 (3) her
impairment(s) meet or equal one of the listings in Appendix
1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404; or (4) pursuant to the
assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity
(RFC), she is unable to perform her past relevant work. 20
C.F.R § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); see also Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005)
(citations omitted). “RFC is a multidimensional
description of the work-related abilities [a claimant]
retain[s] in spite of her medical impairments.”
Ryan v. Colvin, Civ. 15-0740 KBM, 2016 WL 8230660,
at *2 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2016) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(B); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1)). If the claimant meets “the burden of
establishing a prima facie case of disability[, ] . . . the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that” the claimant retains sufficient RFC
“to perform work in the national economy, given [her]
age, education, and work experience.” Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261 (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 751 & n.2 (10th Cir. 1988) (internal citation
omitted)); see also 20 C.F.R. §
One of the process,  ALJ Rice found that Plaintiff “has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 15,
2008, the alleged onset date.” AR at 15 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576). At Step Two, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff “has the following severe
impairments: a history of a head injury resulting in loss of
vision in the left eye; headaches; vertigo; an anxiety
related disorder; an affective disorder; and a chronic pain
disorder.” AR at 15 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c)). ALJ Rice also noted the following nonsevere
impairments: “impairments due to gastroesophageal
reflux disease, a history of treatment for syphilis, a
history of uterine fibroid tumors, and a history of alcohol
abuse in partial remission . . . .” AR at 15.
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” AR at 16 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). At Step Four, the ALJ
considered the evidence of record, including records from
Sandia Vision Center, Lovelace Women's Hospital, Family
and Children's Eye Care Center of New Mexico, La Cueva
Family Health Care, Presbyterian Family Health Care, a
consultative psychological evaluation with Louis Wynne,
Ph.D., South Valley Medical, University of New Mexico
Hospital, Rio Grande Counseling & Guidance Services, Will
Kaufman, M.D., Konstantin Konstantinov, M.D., a Third Party
Function Report from Plaintiff's sister, Paula Chavez,
and testimony from Plaintiff. AR at 17-24.
Rice found that Plaintiff has been “unable to perform
any past relevant work.” AR at 24 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1565). Ultimately, the ALJ found that through the
date last insured, Plaintiff has the [RFC] to perform medium
work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.] 404.1567(c) except that she
can lift up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; should
avoid even moderate exposure to moving machinery or
unprotected heights; limited to occupations not requiring
left eye peripheral acuity or depth perception (has no vision
in her left eye); is able to maintain, understand, and
remember simple work instructions with occasional changes in
work setting; and can perform only occasional interaction
with the public.
18. The ALJ determined that, through the date last insured,
Plaintiff can perform the jobs of janitor, dishwasher, and
night cleaner. AR at 25. The ALJ relied on testimony of the
VE to conclude that “considering [Plaintiff's] age,
education, work experience, and [RFC], [Plaintiff] is capable
of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy.” AR at
25. Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has not
been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, from May 15, 2008, through the date of [the ALJ's]
decision.” AR at 25 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
Court must “review the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Lax v. Astrue,
489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal
citation omitted)). A deficiency in either area is grounds
for remand. Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156,
1161, 1166 (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is
‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Hackett, 395
F.3d at 1172 (internal quotation omitted)). “It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Id. (quoting Zoltanski v.
F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal
quotation omitted) (alteration in original)). The Court will
“consider whether the ALJ followed the specific rules
of law that must be followed in weighing particular types of
evidence in disability cases, but [it] will not reweigh the
evidence or substitute [its] judgment for the
Commissioner's.” Id. (quoting
Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172 (internal quotation marks
and quotations omitted)).
possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the
evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's
findings from being supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. (quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200
(internal quotation omitted)). The Court “may not
‘displace the agenc[y's] choice between two fairly
conflicting views, even though the [C]ourt would justifiably
have made a different choice ...