United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Michael
Chavez's Motion to Remand to Agency. Doc. 19.
For the reasons discussed below, the Court will DENY
initially filed a claim for supplemental security income and
disability insurance benefits on May 11, 2010. AR 481.
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of October 1, 2008,
due to problems with his right knee, migraines, blackouts,
back pain, anxiety, and an inability to focus. AR 129, 496.
Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on October 25,
2010, and upon reconsideration on March 1, 2011. AR 129. On
May 22, 2013, the ALJ held a hearing and ultimately issued a
partially favorable decision. AR 144. The Appeals Council
subsequently granted Plaintiff's request for review,
vacated the ALJ's decision, and remanded the matter to
the ALJ for a new decision. AR 150-54. The ALJ held the
second hearing on November 15, 2015, and issued her decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled on January 21, 2016. AR 41.
Plaintiff now appeals.
the parties are familiar with the administrative record, the
Court will reserve discussion of Plaintiff's pertinent
medical records for its analysis.
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 make the required showing, the
claimant is deemed not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 1520(a)(4); Fischer-Ross v.
Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th Cir. 2005).
Standard of Review
must affirm the denial of social security benefits unless (1)
the decision is not supported by “substantial
evidence” or (2) the ALJ did not apply the proper legal
standards in reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Casias v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 933
F.2d 799, 800-01 (10th Cir. 1991). In making these
determinations, the reviewing court “neither reweigh[s]
the evidence nor substitute[s] [its] judgment for that of the
agency.'” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270,
1272 (10th Cir. 2008). For example, a court's
disagreement with a decision is immaterial to the substantial
evidence analysis. A decision is supported by substantial
evidence as long as it is supported by “relevant
evidence . . . a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support [the] conclusion.” Casias, 933 F.3d at
800. While this requires more than a mere scintilla of
evidence, Casias, 933 F.3d at 800, “[t]he
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) (citing Zoltanski v.
F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).
even if a court agrees with a decision to deny benefits, if
the ALJ's reasons for the decision are improper or are
not articulated with sufficient particularity to allow for
judicial review, the court cannot affirm the decision as
legally correct. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007,
1009 (10th Cir. 1996). As a baseline, the ALJ must support
his or her findings with specific weighing of the evidence
and “the record must demonstrate that the ALJ
considered all of the evidence.” Id. at
1009-10. This does not mean that an ALJ must discuss every
piece of evidence in the record. But, it ...