United States District Court, D. New Mexico
AMBER J. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Amber J.
Jackson's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of
Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing, with
Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 22), which was fully briefed on
June 22, 2017. See Docs. 24, 26, 27. The parties
consented to my entering final judgment in this case. Doc.
25. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, I find that the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to conduct a proper
treating physician analysis of Dr. E.B. Hall's opinion. I
therefore GRANT Ms. Jackson's motion and remand this case
to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with
Standard of Review
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings and the correct legal standards
were applied, the Commissioner's decision stands, and the
plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley, 373
F.3d at 1118. “The 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.” Jensen v.
Barnhart, 436 F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal
quotation marks and brackets omitted). The Court must
meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067,
1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A 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 the 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
ALJ'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. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that 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. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four
steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1)
the claimant is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity;” (2) the claimant 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) the
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1260-61. If the claimant cannot show that his or
her impairment meets or equals a Listing but proves that he
or she is unable to perform his or her “past relevant
work, ” the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner,
at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform
other work in the national economy, considering the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Background and Procedural History
Jackson was born in 1980, was in special education throughout
school due to a learning disability, and dropped out in the
tenth grade. AR 177, 218, 240, 317. She has worked at fast food
restaurants, and as a babysitter for family members, but has
not worked since 2012, and none of her work reached the level
of substantial gainful employment. AR 30, 212-13, 219. Ms.
Jackson filed applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income on March 7, 2012 and April
7, 2012 respectively-alleging disability since January 1,
2012 due to manic depression and bipolar disorder. AR 177-84,
209, 218. The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied her claims initially on August 13,
2012. AR 120-23. The SSA denied her claims on reconsideration
on June 6, 2013. AR 124-30. Ms. Jackson requested a hearing
before an ALJ. AR 131-32. On January 6, 2015, ALJ Barry
O'Melinn held a hearing. AR 37-57. ALJ O'Melinn
issued his unfavorable decision on April 13, 2015. AR 11-36.
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Jackson had not engaged in
substantial, gainful activity since January 1, 2012, her
alleged onset date. AR 16. At step two, the ALJ found that
Ms. Jackson suffered from the following severe impairments:
“Organic Brain Syndrome, Affective disorder; Anxiety
Disorder; Attention Deficit Disorder; Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder; Personality Disorder; Borderline
Intellectual Dysfunction; and, obstructive sleep
apnea.” Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
none of Ms. Jackson's impairments, alone or in
combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. AR 17-20.
Because the ALJ found that none of the impairments met a
Listing, the ALJ assessed Ms. Jackson's RFC. AR 20-30.
The ALJ found Ms. Jackson had the RFC
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels.
Claimant can understand, carry out, and remember simple
instructions and make commensurate work related decisions,
respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers and work
situations, deal with routine changes in work setting,
maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for up to and
including 2 hours at a time with normal breaks throughout the
work day. She must work in a low stress job with only
occasional decision making and only occasional changes in the
work setting. She is suitable for jobs involving work
primarily with things and not people.
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Jackson did not have any
past relevant work. AR 30. The ALJ found Ms. Jackson not
disabled at step five because she could perform jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy-such as
dishwasher, laundry worker, and packer. AR 30-31. On May 28,
2015, Ms. Jackson requested review of the ALJ's
unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council. AR 7-10. On July
26, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for review.
AR 1-6. Ms. Jackson timely filed her appeal to this Court on
August 25, 2016. Doc. 1.