United States District Court, D. New Mexico
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. 22] (“Motion”), filed on September 29,
2017. The Commissioner responded on November 22, 2017. [Doc.
24]. Plaintiff replied on December 21, 2017. [Doc. 25]. 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 at step four. He made no finding as to the mental
demands of (or skills acquired in) Plaintiff's past
relevant work. Moreover, the evidence in this administrative
record could not sustain a finding that Plaintiff ever
acquired the skills necessary to perform the job of
“store manager, ” Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”) number 185.167-046, as it is
generally performed. 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
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 he 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) he is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; and (2)
he 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) his impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) he is unable to perform his “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv);
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If he cannot show that his
impairment meets or equals a Listing, but he proves that he
is unable to perform his “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 his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
applied for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits on March 28, 2013. Tr. 15. He alleged a
disability-onset date of March 1, 2008. Id. His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. ALJ Kim A. Fields held a hearing on February 11,
2016, in Alexandria, Louisiana. Tr. 11, 29-50. Plaintiff and
his non-attorney representative appeared by video conference
from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Id. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Charles E. Smith. Id.
issued his unfavorable decision on March 16, 2016. Tr. 23. He
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2013. Tr. 17. At step one he found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
between his alleged onset date (March 1, 2008) and his date
last insured (December 31, 2013). Id. At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: “obesity, diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, cervical spine disc
disease, [and] history of obstructive sleep apnea.”
Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments of anxiety and depression were not
severe. Tr. 18.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 19. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 19-22. The ALJ found
that, through his date last insured, Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b). Tr. 19.
four, the ALJ relied on the VE's hearing testimony to
conclude that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant
work as “store manager, ” DOT number 185.167-046,
as it is generally performed. Tr. 22. Ultimately, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the
Social Security Act and denied the claim. Tr. 23. Plaintiff
requested review from the Appeals Council, but that ...