United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Deidre Simona
Castillo-Rael's Motion to Reverse and Remand for
Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 17), which was
fully briefed on September 7, 2017. See Docs. 19,
20, 21. The parties consented to my entering final judgment
in this case. Docs. 3, 5, 6. Having meticulously reviewed the
entire record and being fully advised in the premises, I find
that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred
by failing to properly weigh the opinions of the
non-examining state agency psychologists. I therefore GRANT
Ms. Castillo-Rael's motion and remand this case to the
Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this
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
Castillo-Rael was born in 1983, completed the eleventh grade,
and later completed an EMT program. AR 36, 207,
She had worked loading freight on airplanes, as a loss
prevention associate, and as a personal trainer. AR 46, 258.
Ms. Castillo-Rael filed applications for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income on June 18, 2013,
alleging disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder,
anxiety, depression, and sleep apnea. AR 207- 20, 257. The
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her
claims initially on August 13, 2013. AR 110-13. The SSA
denied her claims on reconsideration on November 21, 2013. AR
118-24. Ms. Castillo-Rael requested a hearing before an ALJ.
AR 125-26. On October 5, 2015, ALJ Eric Weiss held a hearing.
AR 28-51. ALJ Weiss issued his unfavorable decision on
December 11, 2015. AR 9-27.
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Castillo-Rael had not engaged in
substantial, gainful activity since the earlier of her
alleged onset dates. AR 14. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms.
Castillo-Rael suffered from the severe impairments of major
depressive disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Ms.
Castillo-Rael's impairments, alone or in combination, met
or medically equaled a Listing. AR 15-16. Because the ALJ
found that none of the impairments met a Listing, the ALJ
assessed Ms. Castillo-Rael's RFC. AR 16-20. The ALJ found
Ms. Castillo-Rael had the RFC to
perform a full range of exertional work at all exertional
levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: Able
to perform the full range of exertional work as defined by
the regulations. She is able to understand, remember and
carry out simple instructions and make commensurate work
related decisions, but not a production rate pace, in a work
setting with few changes. She is able to occasionally
interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public. She is
able to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for 2
hrs at a time during the workday with normal breaks.
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Castillo-Rael was unable to
perform her past relevant work as an aircraft loader, a sales
clerk, a personal trainer, or a surveillance systems monitor.
AR 20. The ALJ found Ms. Castillo-Rael not disabled at step
five because she could perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy-such as addresser, flat work
tier,  and cleaner in an industrial setting. AR
21. On January 8, 2016, Ms. Castillo-Rael requested review of
the ALJ's unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council. AR
7-8. On November 30, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the
request for review. AR 1-6. Ms. Castillo-Rael timely filed
her appeal to this Court on January 9, 2017. Doc.