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 or Remand [Doc. 13] (“Motion”), filed on
December 1, 2017. The Commissioner responded on January 29,
2018. [Doc. 19]. Plaintiff replied on February 23, 2018.
[Doc. 20]. The parties have consented to the
undersigned's entering final judgment in this case. [Doc.
15]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not apply
the correct legal standards in evaluating Plaintiff's
mental impairment(s). Accordingly, the Motion will be
granted, and the case will be remanded for further
proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence
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 he 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)
he is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (2) he 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) his
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings”of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) he is unable to perform his “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 he cannot show that his impairment meets
or equals a Listing, but he proves that he is unable to
perform his “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 his 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 May 3, 2013.
Tr. 10. He alleged a disability-onset date of January 1,
2013. Id. His claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. ALJ Ann Farris held a hearing
on January 6, 2016, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 10,
33-58. Plaintiff appeared with his attorney. Id. The
ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”) Mary D. Weber.
issued her unfavorable decision on February 3, 2016. Tr. 20.
She found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2017. Tr. 12. At step one she found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
between his alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus with
neuropathy of the feet was severe. Id. She further
found that Plaintiff's hepatitis C, lumbago, alcohol use,
and mood disorder with anxiety were not severe. Tr. 13.
three the ALJ determined that, through the date last insured,
none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination,
met or medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 14. Because none of
Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a
Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr.
15-18. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had “the [RFC] to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §§]
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except he could never kneel,
crouch, or crawl. He must avoid exposure to hazardous
conditions, including unprotected heights and dangerous
moving machinery.” Tr. 15.
four the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to return to his
past relevant work. Tr. 18. The ALJ went on to consider
Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, and the
testimony of the VE at step five. Tr. 18-19. She found that
Plaintiff could perform work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy and, therefore, was not
disabled. Id. Plaintiff requested review from the
Appeals Council, but ...