United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the
Alternative, for Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum [Doc.
23] (“Motion”), filed on December 1, 2017. The
Commissioner responded on January 19, 2018. [Doc. 26].
Plaintiff replied on February 16, 2018. [Doc. 27]. The
parties have consented to the undersigned's entering
final judgment in this case. [Doc. 24]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to apply the correct legal
standards in weighing the opinions of Drs. Koewler, Chiang,
and Robinowitz. Accordingly, the Motion will be granted, and
the case will be remanded for further proceedings.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence four).
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings and the correct legal standards
were applied, the Commissioner's decision stands and the
plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The decision “is
not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla
of evidence supporting it.” Id. While a court
may not re-weigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
[Commissioner]'s findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“The 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.
failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide
this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A);
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four
steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1)
she is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (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) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings”of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) she is unable to perform her “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If she cannot show that her impairment
meets or equals a Listing, but she proves that she is unable
to perform her “past relevant work, ” the burden
of proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on April 16, 2013.
See Tr. 391. She alleged a disability-onset date of
August 1, 2008. Tr. 306. Her claim was denied by an ALJ,
remanded by this Court, and denied a second time by an ALJ.
See Tr. 306-22. ALJ Ann Farris held the second
administrative hearing by video conference on January 25,
2017, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 306-22, 329-59.
Plaintiff appeared with her attorney from Farmington, New
Mexico. Id. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff
and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Beth
issued her unfavorable decision on March 8, 2017. Tr. 322.
Initially, she found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through September 30, 2012. Tr. 308. At step
one, she found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Id.
Because Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity for at least 12 months, the ALJ proceeded to step
two. Id. There, she found that Plaintiff suffered
from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis in the
knees, a mood disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(“PTSD”), borderline personality disorder,
learning disorder, polysubstance abuse, and obesity.
Id. However, the ALJ specifically found that
Plaintiff had no medically determinable mental impairment
prior to her date last insured. Tr. 309. She further found
that Plaintiff's hypertension and gastroesophageal reflux
disease were not severe and that her bilateral hand pain was
not a medically determinable impairment. Id.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 309-11. Because none of
Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a
Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
312-20. The ALJ found that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except that she cannot kneel, crouch, or crawl.
She is limited to simple, routine tasks with reasoning level
1, should have no interaction with the general public and
only occasional, superficial interaction with co-workers.
four the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
Tr. 320. The ALJ went on to consider Plaintiff's RFC,
age, education, work experience, and the testimony of the VE
at step five. Tr. 320-21. She found that Plaintiff could
perform work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy and, therefore, was not disabled.
Id. Plaintiff did not file exceptions to the
ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council did not assume
jurisdiction within 60 days. Therefore, pursuant to 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.984(d), the ALJ's decision is the final
decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed directly to
this Court on June 6, 2017. [Doc. 1].
failed to apply the correct legal standards in evaluating the
opinions of Dr. Koewler, Dr. Chiang, and Dr. Robinowitz. The
ALJ failed to include the doctors' assessed limitations
in the RFC and she also failed to explain the omissions.
Accordingly, remand is warranted to revisit their opinions.
Plaintiff's request for an immediate award of benefits
will be denied because further fact-finding is needed. The
Court declines to pass on Plaintiff's other alleged
errors at this time.
ALJ erred in rejecting portions of the source opinions and