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Montoya v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 28, 2018

ERIC ELIJAH MONTOYA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE OR REMAND

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Eric Elijah Montoya's Motion to Remand to Agency for Rehearing. Doc. 21. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's motion and remand this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on February 11, 2015. AR 10. Plaintiff alleged disability due to traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorder. AR 53. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of July 1, 2013. AR 53. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on September 4, 2015, and upon reconsideration on January 27, 2016. AR 10. On May 26, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing via videoconference. AR 10. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims on July 11, 2016. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review. Doc. 1. This appeal followed.

         Because the parties are familiar with record in this case, the Court will discuss Plaintiff's medical history to the extent that it is relevant to the issues before the Court. Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Patrick Silverthorne on August 14, 2015. AR 586. Dr. Silverthorne found that Plaintiff “had difficulty with fine and gross manipulative skills in the right hand…[and] [s]light decreased capacity to make fist” due to previous 3rd and 4th phalangeal fractures. AR 589. Nevertheless, Dr. Silverthorne opined that Plaintiff “has no limitations on ability to…reach [and] handle.” AR 590.

         Subsequently, non-examining state agency physician Mark Werner, M.D. reviewed Dr. Silverthorne's records and found that Plaintiff is limited in handling (gross manipulation) and fingering (fine manipulation) in his right hand. AR 64. Dr. Werner opined that Plaintiff should be limited to frequent handling and fingering. AR 64.

         In her decision, the ALJ gave “great weight” to Dr. Silverthorne's opinions. AR 16. While noting that Dr. Silverthorne indicated that Plaintiff had decreased capacity to make a fist with his right hand, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had normal fine and gross manipulative skills. AR 16. The ALJ did not address Dr. Werner's opinion that Plaintiff is limited to frequent handling and fingering. Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels” but with certain non-exertional limitations. AR 14. The vocational expert testified that Plaintiff would be able to perform the requirements of hospital cleaner or dishwasher. The ALJ found that these occupations existed in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore found Plaintiff not disabled.

         II. Applicable Law

         A. Disability Determination Process

         A claimant is considered disabled for purposes of Social Security disability insurance benefits if that individual 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). The Social Security Commissioner has adopted a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a person satisfies these statutory criteria. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The steps of the analysis are as follows:

(1) Claimant must establish that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If claimant is so engaged, she is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(2) Claimant must establish that she has “a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . or combination of impairments” that has lasted for at least one year. If claimant is not so impaired, she is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(3) If claimant can establish that her impairment(s) are equivalent to a listed impairment that has already been determined to preclude substantial gainful activity, claimant is presumed disabled and the analysis stops.
(4) If, however, claimant's impairment(s) are not equivalent to a listed impairment, claimant must establish that the impairment(s) prevent her from doing her “past relevant work.” Answering this question involves three phases. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ considers all of the relevant medical and other evidence and determines what is “the most [claimant] can still do despite [her physical and mental] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). This is called the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Id. § 404.1545(a)(3). Second, the ALJ determines the physical and mental demands of claimant's past work. Third, the ALJ determines whether, given claimant's RFC, claimant is capable of meeting those demands. A claimant who is capable of returning to past relevant work is not disabled and the analysis stops.
(5) At this point, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that claimant is able to “make an adjustment to other work.” If the Commissioner is unable to make that showing, claimant is deemed disabled. If, however, the Commissioner is able to ...

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