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Garcia v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 8, 2018

CRYSTAL GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision [Doc. 19] and her Memorandum Brief in Support [Doc. 20], filed on August 16, 2017. The Commissioner responded on October 18, 2017. [Doc. 27]. Plaintiff replied on November 21, 2017. [Doc. 28]. The parties have consented to my entering final judgment in this case. [Doc. 25]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet her burden as the movant before this Court to show that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards, or that his decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied and the Commissioner's final decision affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing a decision by the Commissioner's to terminate benefits, courts must decide whether substantial evidence supports the decision.[2] Hayden v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 986, 988 (10th Cir. 2004). “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). The 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 a 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 [Commissioner]'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. FAA, 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)). Courts must meticulously review the entire record but may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).

         In addition, when terminating benefits, the Commissioner's “failure to apply correct legal standards, or to show us that she has done so, are also grounds for reversal.” Hayden, 374 F.3d at 988. Thus, reviewing courts must be satisfied that the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards in deciding to terminate benefits. Id.

         Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process

         This case involves the termination of benefits. Plaintiff was found to be disabled in 2010. However, in 2012, Defendant determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled and terminated her benefits.

         A seven-step sequential evaluation process is used in reviewing a termination of supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits.[3] If the Commissioner meets her burden of establishing that the claimant's medical condition has improved, and that the improvement is related to the claimant's ability to work, the Commissioner must then demonstrate that the claimant is currently able to engage in substantial gainful activity. Hayden, 374 F.3d at 988.

         The burden of proof is on the Commissioner in a termination-of-benefits review. Id. at 991; Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 987 (10th Cir. 1994). The Honorable Sam A. Crow, Senior United States District Judge for the District of Kansas, summarizes the seven-step sequential evaluation process as follows:

(1) Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment? (If yes, the claimant is still disabled.) (2) If not, has there been medical improvement? If there has been medical improvement, as shown by a decrease in medical severity, see step 3. If there has been no decrease in medical severity, there has been no medical improvement (see step 4). (3) If there has been medical improvement, the agency must determine whether it is related to the claimant's ability to work (whether there has been an increase in the residual functional capacity (RFC) based on the impairment that was present at the time of the most favorable medical determination). If medical improvement is not related to the claimant's ability to work, see step 4. If medical improvement is related to claimant's ability to work, see step 5. (4) If no medical improvement was found at step 2, or that the medical improvement was found at step 3 not to be related to claimant's ability to work, the agency considers a number of exceptions; if none of them applies, claimant's disability will be found to continue.
(5) The agency will next determine whether all of the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe. If claimant has no severe impairments, claimant will no longer be considered disabled.
(6) If claimant's impairments are severe, the agency will assess the claimant's current ability to do substantial gainful activity. The agency will assess the claimant's RFC and consider whether the claimant can perform past work. If claimant can perform past work, claimant will no longer be considered disabled.
(7) If claimant cannot perform past work, the agency will consider, given claimant's RFC, whether claimant can perform other work in the national economy.

Adams v. Colvin, No. 15-1074-SAC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79508, *5-6 (D. Kan. June 17, 2016) (unpublished) (emphases added) (citing 20 ...


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