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Rimer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 14, 2018

DEAN WAYNE RIMER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR, United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum [Doc. 18] (“Motion”), filed on February 15, 2018. The Commissioner responded on April 12, 2018. [Doc. 20]. Plaintiff replied on May 7, 2018. [Doc. 23]. The parties have consented to my entering final judgment in this case. [Doc. 8]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet his burden as the movant to show that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards or that his decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied and the Commissioner's final decision affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the Commissioner's final decision[1] 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).

         “Substantial 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. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (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 omitted).

         Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process

         In 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).

         When considering a disability application, the Commissioner is required to use a five step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 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[2] 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); 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.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on December 15, 2015. Tr. 18. He alleged a disability-onset date of January 23, 2009.[3] Id. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. ALJ Cole Gerstner held a hearing on November 29, 2016, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 18, 37-79. Plaintiff appeared with his attorney. Id. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Mary Weber. Id.

         The ALJ issued his unfavorable decision on February 22, 2017. Tr. 32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through March 31, 2019. Tr. 20. At step one he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), panic attacks, depressive disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and bilateral degenerative joint disease of the knees. Id. He further found that Plaintiff's seizure disorder was not severe. Tr. 20-21.

         At step three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. Tr. 21-22. Because none of Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 22-29. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had

the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. ยง] 404.1567(b) except allows for sitting, standing[, ] and walking six hours of an eight[-]hour workday; pushing and pulling as much as he can lift and carry; occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps[, ] and stairs; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching[, ] and crawling; work environment with occasional exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, extreme cold, vibration[, ] and moderate noise; limited to simple, routine[, ] and repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace; judgment limited to simple work[-]related decisions; ...

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