United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse for Payment of Benefits, or in the Alternative, to
Remand for Rehearing (Doc. 15) filed on August 4,
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.
3, 5, 6. Having considered the record,
submissions of counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds
Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken and will be denied.
September 19, 2011, Deanna Lynne Adolph
(“Plaintiff”) filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 312-13. She alleged
a disability onset date of July 29, 2011 (AR at 313) due to
dystonia, chronic hypertension, paroxysmal dystonia,
narcoleptic disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (AR at 328). Her date last insured was June 30,
2012. AR at 325. The Social Security Administration
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled both initially (AR
at 138-41) and on reconsideration (AR at 146-48). Plaintiff
then requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). AR at 149-50.
de novo hearing on January 9, 2013 (AR at 99-112), ALJ Daniel
Curran issued an unfavorable opinion, finding Plaintiff was
not disabled on or before her date last insured (AR at
115-27). The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request
for review (AR at 404-09), and remanded the case to the ALJ
for further proceedings (AR at 132-35). After two subsequent
hearings (AR at 80-98, 51-78) ALJ Curran, again, found
Plaintiff was not disabled on or before her date last insured
(AR at 26-44). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals
Council (AR at 16-23), which the Council denied (AR at 1-5).
Consequently, the ALJ's second decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See 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 five-step sequential 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
§ 12.00(B); see also 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, ALJ Curran found that Plaintiff “did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her
alleged onset date of July 29, 2011 through her date last
insured of June 30, 2012.” AR at 32 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1571-1576). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded
that “through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had
the following severe impairments: psychogenic dystonia,
narcolepsy, cataplexy, major depressive disorder and
generalized anxiety disorder.” AR at 32 (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff
“has the non-medically determinable impairment of
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” and the
“nonsevere impairment[s] of hypertension and kidney
disease.” AR at 32.
Three, the ALJ determined that “[t]hrough the date last
insured, [Plaintiff] did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” AR at 33 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). The ALJ
examined Listings 12.02 (organic mental disorders), 12.04
(affective disorders), and 12.06 (anxiety related disorders).
AR at 33. With respect to Plaintiff's mental impairments,
the ALJ further determined that Plaintiff has mild
limitations in activities of daily living, and moderate
limitations in both social functioning and concentration,
persistence, or pace. AR at 33-34. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff has experienced no episodes of decompensation of
extended duration. AR at 34. Because Plaintiff's mental
impairments did not cause at least two “marked”
limitations or one “marked” limitation and
“repeated” episodes of decompensation, each of
extended duration, the ALJ concluded that the paragraph B
criteria were not satisfied. AR at 33; see also 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, App. 1 § 12.06(B). The ALJ
also found that Plaintiff did not meet the paragraph C
criteria of Listing 12.02, 12.04, or 12.06. AR at 34-35.
next defined Plaintiff's RFC, and in doing so
“considered all [Plaintiff's] symptoms and the
extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as
consistent with the objective medical evidence and other
evidence . . . .” AR at 135 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529; SSR 96-4P, 1996 WL 374187 (July 2, 1996); SSR
96-7P, 1996 WL 374186 (July 2, 1996)). The ALJ concluded that
while Plaintiff's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the
alleged symptoms[, ]” Plaintiff's “statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of
these symptoms are not entirely credible . . . .” AR at
42. The ALJ considered the evidence of record, including
function reports and testimony from Plaintiff and her mother,
witness statements, medical records from May 2011 to August
2012, consultative examinations reports from Dr. Rattan and
Dr. Didriksen, Dr. Yeganov's treating source statement,
testimony from medical experts Dr. Smith, Dr. Amusa, and Dr.
Devere, and medical and physical assessments by Dr. Lankford
and Dr. Samaratunga. AR at 35-43. Ultimately, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's RFC limits Plaintiff to light
work and that
[m]entally, the [Plaintiff] is limited to understanding,
remembering, and carrying out only simple instructions;
making judgments that are commensurate with the functions of
unskilled work - i.e., simple work-related decisions;
responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers and
unusual work situations; and dealing with changes in a
routine work setting. She is limited to no joint
decision-making or teamwork, occasional contact with the
general public, and the work must not require the claimant to
direct or receive directions from the general public. In
other words, interactions on the job with other people must
be of a superficial rather than of a substantive nature.
Specifically, the [Plaintiff] is able to do only routine,
solitary, repetitive work that does not require close
oversight by a supervisor.
AR at 35.
Four, ALJ Curran noted that Plaintiff has no past relevant
work. AR at 43. Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ found that
“[t]hrough the date last insured, considering the
[Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and [RFC],
there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that the [Plaintiff] could have
performed.” AR at 43 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1569, 404.1569(a)). The ALJ made this determination based
on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”).
AR at 44. The VE testified that a person with Plaintiff's
“age, education, work experience, and [RFC] . . . would
be able to perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as housekeeping cleaning . . .; a garment
sorter . . .; and . . . an addresser.” AR at 44.
Ultimately, ALJ Curran determined that Plaintiff “was
not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, at any time from July 29, 2011, the alleged onset date,
through June 30, 2012, the date last insured.” AR at 44
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).
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. See Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d
1156, 1161, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012) (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
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 quotations
omitted)). “The 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 court would justifiably have made a different
choice had the matter been before it de novo.'”
Id. (quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200
(internal quotation omitted)).
asserts three grounds for remand: (1) the ALJ conducted an
incomplete analysis of medical source opinion evidence and
the RFC is, therefore, contrary to the evidence; (2) the ALJ
failed to properly assess Plaintiff's credibility when
determining the RFC; and (3) the ALJ erred at step five by
adopting VE testimony of inconsistent and obsolete jobs.
Doc. 15 at 1-2.
The ALJ properly weighed the medical source opinions and
adequately assessed Plaintiff's RFC.
determining an applicant's RFC, the ALJ must consider and
weigh all the medical opinions in the case record. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(b), (c); see also SSR 96-8P, 1996 WL
374184, at *7 (July 2, 1996). The ALJ must provide
“good reason in [the] notice of determination or
decision for the weight” he assigned to an opinion.
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d at 1297, 1300 (10th
Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). “The ALJ's decision
[must] be ‘sufficiently specific to make clear to any
subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the
treating source's medical opinion and the reasons for
that weight.'” Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d
1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Watkins, 305
F.3d at 1300); see also Ringgold v. Colvin, 644 F.
App'x 841, 843 (10th Cir. 2016) (noting that an ALJ must
provide “good reasons in his decision for the weight he
gave to [an examining medical source's] opinion”).
To completely reject a medical source's opinion, the ALJ
must “give specific, legitimate reasons for doing
so.” Kellam v. Berryhill, 696 F. App'x
909, 917 (10th Cir. 2017).
challenges the ALJ's treatment of medical opinions from
medical expert Dr. Devere, treating psychiatrist Dr. Yeganov,
consulting neuropsychologist Dr. Didriksen, consulting
psychologist Dr. Rattan, and non-examining psychologist Dr.
Lankford. Doc. 15 at 7-16. However, the ALJ