United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing United States Magistrate Judge Presiding by Consent
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Irene Sarah
Yalch's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Rehearing, with
Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 19), which was fully briefed on
August 23, 2017. See Docs. 21, 24, 25. The parties
consented to my entering final judgment in this case. Docs.
4, 7, 9. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and
being fully advised in the premises, I find that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing
to properly consider the opinion of treating nurse
practitioner Melanie Robbins. I therefore GRANT Ms.
Yalch's motion and remand this case to the Commissioner
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Standard of Review
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).
“The 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 and
brackets omitted). The Court must meticulously review the
entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as 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 or if there is a mere scintilla of
evidence supporting it.” Id. While the Court
may not reweigh 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
ALJ'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)
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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); 20 C.F.R. §§
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)
the claimant is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity;” (2) the claimant 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) the
impairment(s) either meet or equal one of the
Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or 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 1260-61. If the claimant cannot show that his or
her impairment meets or equals a Listing but proves that he
or she is unable to perform his or her “past relevant
work, ” the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner,
at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform
other work in the national economy, considering the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Background and Procedural History
Yalch was born in 1985, completed high school, and worked as
a cashier and a daycare teacher. AR 186, 274. Ms. Yalch filed
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on September 11, 2012, alleging
disability since February 15, 2012 due to back pain,
bilateral arm and hand pain, bilateral knee spurs, bilateral
arthritis in the feet, and endometriosis. AR 186-98, 273. The
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her
claims initially on November 6, 2012. Doc. 12-1 at 2; AR
119-22. The SSA denied her claims on reconsideration on June
28, 2013. AR 124-29. Ms. Yalch requested a hearing before an
ALJ. AR 132-33. On March 3, 2015, ALJ Ann Farris held a
hearing. AR 30-68. ALJ Farris issued her unfavorable decision
on June 23, 2015. AR 9-29.
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Yalch had not engaged in
substantial, gainful activity since February 15, 2012, her
alleged onset date. AR 14. At step two, the ALJ found that
Ms. Yalch suffered from the following severe impairments:
“status post right knee arthroscopy; fibromyalgia;
depression; and posttraumatic stress disorder.”
Id. The ALJ found that Ms. Yalch also had several
nonsevere impairments: degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine, bilateral knee osteoarthritis, status post foot
surgery, endometriosis, migraines, and obesity. AR 14-15. At
step three, the ALJ found that none of Ms. Yalch's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. AR 15-17. Because the ALJ found that none
of the impairments met a Listing, the ALJ assessed Ms.
Yalch's RFC. AR 17-23. The ALJ found Ms. Yalch had the
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a), as the claimant is able to lift and carry ten
pounds occasionally; is able to stand or walk up to two hours
in an eight-hour workday; and is able to sit for up to six
hours in an eight-hour workday. However, the claimant can
never climb ladders or scaffolds, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
The claimant can only occasionally climb stairs, balance, and
stoop. The claimant can only have occasional and superficial
interactions with the general public.
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Yalch was unable to perform
her past relevant work as a childcare attendant or a cashier.
AR 23. The ALJ found Ms. Yalch not disabled at step five
because she could perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy-such as document preparer,
addresser, and table worker. AR 23-24. On July 9, 2015, Ms.
Yalch requested review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision
by the Appeals Council. AR 6-7. On August 23, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-3. Ms.
Yalch timely filed her appeal to this Court on October 21,
2016. Doc. 1.
Ms. Yalch's Claims
Yalch raises five arguments for reversing and remanding this
case: (1) the ALJ failed to obtain a medical expert opinion
about whether Ms. Yalch's fibromyalgia medically equaled
a listing; (2) the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinion of treating nurse practitioner Melanie Robbins; (3)
the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of treating
nurse practitioner Jeanne Corns; (4) the ALJ failed to
complete a function-by-function assessment of Ms. Yalch's
work-related mental abilities; (5) the ALJ's step-five
determination is not supported by substantial evidence.
See Doc. 19. I find that the ALJ erred by failing to
properly consider the opinion of treating nurse practitioner
Melanie Robbins. Because I remand based on the ALJ's
failure to properly analyze this opinion, I do not address
the other alleged errors, which “may be affected by the
ALJ's treatment of this case on remand.”
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1299 (10th Cir.
The ALJ Failed to Properly Consider the Opinion of