United States District Court, D. New Mexico
SHANNETTE L. TILLA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
KHALSA United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record (Doc. 13) filed June 2, 2017, in
support of Plaintiff Shannette L. Tilla's
(“Plaintiff”) Complaint (Doc. 1) seeking review
of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for Title II disability
insurance benefits. On August 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed her
Motion to Reverse and Remand For A Rehearing With Supporting
Memorandum (“Motion”). (Doc. 18.) The
Commissioner filed a Response in opposition on September 29,
2017 (Doc. 20), and Plaintiff filed a Reply on October 24,
2017. (Doc. 24.) The Court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Having meticulously reviewed
the entire record and the applicable law and being fully
advised in the premises, the Court finds the Motion is well
taken and is GRANTED.
Background and Procedural Record
Shannette Tilla (“Ms. Tilla”) alleges that she
became disabled on December 1, 2009, at the age of
thirty-seven because of a tumor in her spine, back pain,
hernia, severe nerve damage, and depression. (Tr. 42, 278,
283.) Ms. Tilla completed three years of
college in 1999, and worked as a bartender, disability home
caretaker, home health caretaker/supervisor, and a casework
supervisor for the State of New Mexico. (Tr. 48-51, 284, 291,
310.) Ms. Tilla reported she stopped working on December 22,
2004, due to her medical conditions. (Tr. 283.)
February 11, 2013, Ms. Tilla protectively filed an
application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et
seq. (Tr. 251-54, 279.) She also protectively filed an
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381 et seq. (Tr. 255-60.) Ms. Tilla's
applications were initially denied on June 20, 2013. (Tr.
100, 101-116, 117, 118-130, 163-66, 167-70.) They were denied
again at reconsideration on September 4, 2013. (Tr. 131,
132-45, 147, 148-61, 176-79, 180-83.) On November 5, 2013,
Ms. Tilla requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 184-85.) The ALJ conducted a
hearing on July 16, 2015. (Tr. 35-94.) Ms. Tilla appeared in
person at the hearing with attorney representative Michael
Armstrong. (Id.) The ALJ took testimony from Ms.
Tilla (Tr. 44-50, 51-52, 53-78), from Ms. Tilla's
husband, David Lee (Tr. 79-88), and an impartial vocational
expert (“VE”), Sandra Trost (Tr. 50-51, 52-53,
88-93). On September 10, 2015, ALJ Eris Weiss issued a
partially favorable decision, finding that Ms. Tilla was not
disabled at any time through December 31, 2009, her date last
insured, but that she became disabled on October 30, 2013.
(Tr. 13-29.) On November 18, 2016, the Appeals Council issued
its decision denying Ms. Tilla's request for review and
upholding the ALJ's final decision. (Tr. 1-3.) On January
18, 2017, Ms. Tilla timely filed a Complaint seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. 1.)
Disability Determination Process
individual is considered disabled if 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) (pertaining
to disability insurance benefits); see also 42
U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(A) (pertaining to supplemental
security income disability benefits for adult individuals).
The Social Security Commissioner has adopted the familiar
five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a person
satisfies the statutory criteria as follows:
(1) At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, she is not disabled regardless of her
(2) At step two, the ALJ must determine the severity of the
claimed physical or mental impairment(s). If the claimant
does not have an impairment(s) or combination of impairments
that is severe and meets the duration requirement, she is not
(3) At step three, the ALJ must determine whether a
claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals in severity one
of the listings described in Appendix 1 of the regulations
and meets the duration requirement. If so, a claimant is
(4) If, however, the claimant's impairments do not meet
or equal in severity one of the listing described in Appendix
1 of the regulations, the ALJ must determine at step four
whether the claimant can perform 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),
416.945(a)(1). This is called the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). Id.
§§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(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, the claimant is capable of meeting those
demands. A claimant who is capable of returning to past
relevant work is not disabled.
(5) If the claimant does not have the RFC to perform her past
relevant work, the Commissioner, at step five, must show that
the claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience. If the Commissioner is unable to make
that showing, the 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. § 404.1520(a)(4) (disability
insurance benefits); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)
(supplemental security income disability benefits);
Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th
Cir. 2005); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261
(10th Cir. 2005). The claimant has the initial
burden of establishing a disability in the first four steps
of this analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146, n.5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294, n. 5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).
The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant is capable of performing work in the
national economy. Id. A finding that the claimant is
disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review
is conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 933 F.2d
799, 801 (10th Cir. 1991).
Standard of Review
Court must affirm the Commissioner's 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); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d
1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir.
2004); Casias, 933 F.2d at 800-01. In making these
determinations, the 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). A decision is based on substantial
evidence where it is supported by “relevant evidence .
. . a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A
decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record[, ]”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118, or “constitutes
mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The agency
decision must “provide this court with a sufficient
basis to determine that appropriate legal principles have
been followed.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005). Therefore, although
an ALJ is ...