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Bernal v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 31, 2018

FRANK ANTHONY BERNAL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS AND ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         On January 19, 2018, Plaintiff Frank Anthony Bernal filed Objections[1] to the Magistrate Judge's PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITIONS (“PFRD) (Doc. 30) and the Commissioner responded.[2] The Court recommitted the matter to the Magistrate Judge for clarification.[3] On April 26, 2018, the Magistrate Judge clarified the PFRD.[4] On May 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed Objections to Clarifications (Doc. 35). Being fully advised and after de novo review, the Court will overrule Plaintiff's Objections (Doc. 31) and Objections to Clarifications (Doc. 35), adopt the PFRD and Clarification, and deny Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 25).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand (Motion) asking the Court to reverse the Social Security Administration's decision denying his application for supplemental security income. (Doc. 25). In his Motion, Plaintiff alleged that his disability began on February 6, 2013 due to testicular cancer and a head injury. During the proceedings, the Social Security Administration considered additional claims based on intellectual disability, anxiety, and depression. In the PFRD, Magistrate Judge Wormuth recommended that the Plaintiff's Motion be denied and the Social Security Administration be affirmed.

         In the Order for Clarification, the Court recommitted the PFRD to Magistrate Judge Wormuth to clarify his findings as follows:

1. Was it harmless error for the ALJ to fail to address Listing ¶12.02, Organic Mental Disorder, when to meet the Listing ¶12.02 criteria, a Plaintiff must establish either A and B or alternatively, C, and the ALJ made no findings about whether Plaintiff met the definition of ¶12.02 or the criteria found in subsection C?;
2. Did the PFRD make a finding that a “wide range of issues [could] precipitate ‘special education'” based on evidence in the record?;
3. Would the fact that a consulting physician's report should be properly characterized as “clinical findings” by a specialist in the field instead of “treatment notes” change the analysis as to whether the ALJ gave proper weight to the report? (Doc. 33, p.2).

         On April 26, 2018, in response to the Order for Clarification, Magistrate Judge Wormuth entered a Clarification of the PFRD.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a party files written objections to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations, the district court must conduct de novo review “of those portions . . . to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(C). “De novo review requires the district court to consider relevant evidence of record and not merely review the magistrate judge's recommendation.” Griego v. Padilla (In re Griego), 64 F.3d 580, 584 (10th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). However, the district court is not required to make any specific findings. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The PFRD found no error in the ALJ's denial of Plaintiff's petition. In his Objections, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in her determination in three ways. First, he contends that the ALJ erred in her determination at Step 3 because she incorrectly found that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or was the equivalent of Listing ¶12.05(C), Intellectual Disability, and because she did not evaluate whether his impairment met the criteria of ¶12.02, Organic Mental Disorder. Second, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in the weight she gave to a consulting psychiatrist's report about Plaintiff's functional limitations. Third, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred at Step 5 because she failed to resolve conflicts between the vocational expert testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

         A. The ALJ Did Not Err at Step 3

         At Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation for determining whether a claimant is entitled to SSI benefits, the ALJ considers whether a claimant's disabilities meet or equal one of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments found in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 426.925 and 416.926). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not meet the criteria of Listing of Impairments ¶12.04, ¶12.05, and ¶12.06. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ should have considered whether ...


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