United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand to Agency, with Supporting Memorandum
(Doc. 20), filed on September 29, 2017. Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties
have consented to me serving as the presiding judge and
entering final judgment. See Docs. 3, 7, 11. Having
considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant
law, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion is well-taken and
will be granted.
Lyn Edwards (“Plaintiff”) protectively filed an
application with the Social Security Administration for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act on June 19, 2013.
Administrative Record (AR) at 135-39, 59. Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of March 1, 2013. AR at 135. Disability
Determination Services concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled both initially (AR at 48- 58) and on reconsideration
(AR at 61-72). Plaintiff requested a hearing with an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on the merits of
her SSI application. AR at 89-90.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified during the de
novo hearing. AR at 25-47. ALJ Myriam Fernandez Rice
issued an unfavorable decision on October 30, 2015. AR at
8-20. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 6-7), with
additional medical evidence (AR at 5). The Council denied
review on February 28, 2017 (AR at 1-3), making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See
Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).
Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings
claimant seeking disability benefits 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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a).
The Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4); see also Wall v. Astrue, 561
F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
claimant has the burden at the first four steps of the
process to show: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; (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) meet or equal one of the listings in Appendix
1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404; or (4) pursuant to the
assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), she is unable to perform her past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(iv); see
also Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir.
2005) (citations omitted). “RFC is a multidimensional
description of the work-related abilities [a claimant]
retain[s] in spite of her medical impairments.” 20
C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(B); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1). If the claimant
meets “the burden of establishing a prima facie case of
disability[, ] . . . the burden of proof shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant retains
sufficient . . . RFC to perform work in the national economy,
given [her] age, education, and work experience.”
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261 (citing Williams v.
Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751 & n.2 (10th Cir. 1988)
(internal citation omitted)); see also 20 C.F.R.
One of the process, ALJ Rice found that Plaintiff “has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 19,
2013, the application date.” AR at 13 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.971-416.976). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments:
borderline personality disorder; posttraumatic stress
disorder; an anxiety disorder; depression; and substance
addiction disorder in remission.” AR at 13 (citing 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(c)). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff also
has the non-severe impairments of synovitis of the hands,
hypothyroidism, migraine headaches, and obesity. AR at 13.
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” AR at 34 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d),
416.925, 416.925, 416.926). In making her determination, ALJ
Rice considered the criteria of listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08,
and 12.09, and whether Plaintiff's mental impairments met
the “paragraph B” criteria. AR at 14. The ALJ
found that Plaintiff has moderate restrictions in her
activities of daily living, in social functioning, and with
concentration, persistence, and pace. AR at 14. Further, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff has experienced no episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. AR at 14. Because the
ALJ did not find that Plaintiff has at least two
“marked” limitations or one “marked”
limitation and “repeated” episodes of
decompensation, she determined that Plaintiff's mental
impairments do not satisfy the “paragraph B”
criteria. AR at 14. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff
does not meet the “paragraph C” criteria. AR at
concluded that while Plaintiff's “medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause the alleged symptoms[, ] . . . [Plaintiff's]
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible . . .
.” AR at 15. The ALJ considered Plaintiff's medical
records from January 2013 to August 2014, a consultative
psychological evaluation from Dr. Gzaskow, State Agency
medical consultant evaluations, and a mental status
examination from Dr. Baca. Ultimately, the ALJ found that
has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels but with the following
nonexertional limitations: The [Plaintiff] is able to
maintain, understand and remember simple work instructions
with occasional changes in work setting, but limited to
occasional interaction with the public and co-workers.
AR at 15.
Four, ALJ Rice concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform
any past relevant work. AR at 19 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
416.965). Finally, at Step Five the ALJ found that
“[c]onsidering the [Plaintiff's] age, education,
work experience, and [RFC], there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff]
can perform, ” namely table worker, cleaner/polisher,
and shirt folder. AR at 19-20. The ALJ ultimately determined
that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, since June 19, 2013 . . .
.” AR at 20 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).