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 a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum
[Doc. 19] (“Motion”), filed on February 7, 2018.
The Commissioner responded on April 9, 2018. [Doc. 21].
Plaintiff replied on April 25, 2018. [Doc. 24]. The parties
have consented to the undersigned's entering final
judgment in this case. [Doc. 9]. 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 Dr. Walker's opinion. Accordingly, the
Motion will be granted, and the case will be remanded for
further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
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 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
[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) (quoting
Zoltanski v. FAA, 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 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. § 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 supplemental security income on February 1, 2013.
Tr. 11. She alleged a disability-onset date of January 1,
1999. Id. Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. ALJ Ann Farris held a hearing
on December 8, 2015, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 11,
25-58. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney. Id. The
ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial
vocational expert (“VE”) Pamela A. Bowman.
issued her unfavorable decision on March 30, 2016. Tr. 20. At
step one she found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the date of her
application. Tr. 13. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's lupus, affective disorder, and aseptic
necrosis of both hips were severe. Id. She further
found that Plaintiff's migraine headaches and
hypothyroidism were not severe. Id.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 14-15. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 15-19. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had
the [RFC] to perform sedentary work (lift 10 pounds
occasionally, stand/walk for two hours in an eight-hour
workday[, ] and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday)
as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §] 416.967(a) except she can
handle and finger objects only frequently. [Plaintiff] is
limited to simple, routine tasks and occasional interaction
with the public.
four the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
Tr. 19. Accordingly, the ALJ went on to consider
Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, and the
testimony of the VE at step five. Tr. 19-20. 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 that request was denied on April 4,
2017. Tr. 1- 3. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on
June 5, 2017. [Doc. 1].
fails to show error in the evaluation of her treating
physician, Dr. Sibbitt. Nevertheless, remand is warranted
because the ALJ erred in failing to explain why she rejected
Dr. Walker's assessments of certain moderate limitations.
Because proper evaluation of Dr. Walker's opinion may
render moot Plaintiff's other alleged errors, the Court
declines to pass on them at this time.
Plaintiff fails to show reversible error in the evaluation of
Dr. Sibbitt's treating opinion.
Security regulations require that, in determining disability,
the opinions of treating physicians be given controlling
weight when those opinions are well-supported by the medical
evidence and are consistent with the record. 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(2). This is known as the “treating physician
rule.” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1119. The idea is
that a treating physician provides a “unique
perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained
from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of
individual examinations, such as consultative examinations,
” and therefore, a treating physician's opinion
merits controlling weight. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331
F.3d 758, 762 (10th Cir. 2003).
order to receive controlling weight, treating physician
opinions must be both supported by medical evidence and
consistent with the record. If not, the opinions may not
merit controlling weight but still must be given deference
and weighed using the following six factors:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, including the treatment provided and
the kind of examination or testing performed; (3) the degree
to which the physician's opinion is supported by relevant
evidence; (4) consistency between the opinion and the record
as a whole;(5) whether or not the physician is a specialist
in the area upon which an opinion is rendered; and (6) other
factors brought to the ALJ's attention which tend to
support or contradict the opinion.
Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1301 (10th Cir.
2003); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). However, not
every factor is applicable in every case, nor should all six
factors be seen as absolutely necessary. What is absolutely
necessary, though, is that the ALJ give good reasons- reasons
that are “sufficiently specific to [be] clear to any
subsequent reviewers”-for the weight she ultimately
assigns to the opinions. Langley, 373 F.3d at 1119;
see 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); Branum v.
Barnhart, 385 F.3d 1268, 1275 (10th Cir. 2004).
when properly rejecting a treating physician's opinion,
an ALJ must follow two distinct phases. First, the ALJ must
find that the opinion is not supported by medical evidence
and/or is not consistent with the record. Second, the ALJ
must still give deference to the opinion and weigh it
according to the factors listed above. Like all ...