United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JOYCE J. GRIEGO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum
[Doc. 20] (“Motion”), filed on September 15,
2017. The Commissioner responded on November 14, 2017. [Doc.
22]. Plaintiff replied on November 30, 2017. [Doc. 23]. The
parties have consented to the undersigned's entering
final judgment in this case. [Doc. 8]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to apply the correct legal
standard in evaluating the opinion of Dr. Knaus. Accordingly,
the Motion will be granted. The Commissioner's final
decision will be reversed and remanded for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence four).
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 v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (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).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. 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. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
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
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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); 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; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the evaluation
process, the claimant must show: (1) she is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; and (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) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) she is unable to perform her “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv);
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If she cannot show that
her impairment meets or equals a Listing, but she proves that
she is unable to perform her “past relevant work,
” the burden of proof then shifts to the Commissioner,
at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform
other work in the national economy, considering her RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id.
applied for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits on August 7, 2012. Tr. 163. She alleged a
disability-onset date of June 30, 2009. Tr. 11. Her claim was
denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. ALJ
Michelle K. Lindsay held a hearing on February 12, 2015, in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 11, 27-62. Plaintiff and her
attorney appeared, and the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff
and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Thomas
A. Grenier. Id.
issued her unfavorable decision on June 10, 2015. Tr. 21. She
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through September 30, 2014. Tr. 13. At step one she found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity during the relevant time period, which was between
her alleged onset date (June 30, 2009) and her date last
insured (September 30, 2014). Id. At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine; tendinopathy of the supraspinatus and infraspinatus
tendons, left shoulder; and chronic pain syndrome.”
Id. She found that Plaintiff's “alleged
depression” was not severe. Tr. 14.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Id. Because none of
Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a
Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
15-19. The ALJ found that, through her date last insured,
Plaintiff had the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 [C.F.R. §] 404.1567(b) except [she] can lift, carry,
push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; can frequently perform forward and lateral
reaching with the non-dominant upper extremity; can
occasionally reach overhead with the non-dominant upper