United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE OR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Disability Determination Process
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
(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 ...