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Edwards v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 5, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


         THIS 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.

         I. Procedural History

         Vanessa 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[1] (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.

         Both 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).

         II. Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings

         A 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).

         The 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         At Step 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.

         At Step 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 14.

         The ALJ 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 Plaintiff

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.

         At Step 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)).

         III. ...

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