United States District Court, D. New Mexico
AMENDED MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION
FASHING UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Marie
Manzanares's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing
with Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 14), which was fully briefed
on September 15, 2017. Docs. 16, 20, 21. The parties
consented to my entering final judgment in this case. Doc.
24. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to apply
the correct legal standards in weighing the opinions of
non-examining state agency psychologists Christal Janssen,
Ph.D. and Carol Mohney, Ph.D. The Court therefore GRANTS Ms.
Manzanares's motion and remands this case to the
Commissioner for 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
Manzanares, currently age 35, attended special education
classes and graduated from high school. AR 231,
She has worked as a server, cashier, salesperson, medical
records clerk, and an apartment leasing agent AR 64-65, 236.
Ms. Manzanares filed applications for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) on August 6, 2012-alleging disability
since July 17, 2012 due to bipolar disorder, depression, and
attention deficit disorder (“ADD”). AR 195-210,
235. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
denied her claims initially on October 29, 2012. AR 122-28.
The SSA denied her claims on reconsideration on March 25,
2013. AR 133-37. Ms. Manzanares requested a hearing before an
ALJ. AR 138-40. On January 27, 2015, ALJ Ann Farris held a
hearing. AR 35-69. ALJ Farris issued her unfavorable decision
on May 26, 2015. AR 13-34.
found that Ms. Manzanares was insured for disability benefits
through March 31, 2016. AR 18. At step one, the ALJ found
that Ms. Manzanares had not engaged in substantial, gainful
activity since July 11, 2012, her alleged onset date.
Id. Because Ms. Manzanares had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity for at least twelve months, the
ALJ proceeded to step two. AR 19. At step two, the ALJ found
that Ms. Manzanares had the following severe impairments:
bipolar disorder NOS (“not otherwise specified”)
and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”). Id. At step three, the ALJ
found that none of Ms. Manzanares's impairments, alone or
in combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. AR 19-21.
Because the ALJ found that none of the impairments met a
Listing, the ALJ assessed Ms. Manzanares's RFC. AR 21-27.
The ALJ found that Ms. Manzanares
has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels but with the following
non-exertional limitations: the claimant can only make
simple, work-related decisions with few workplace changes;
she should not be required to have interactions with the
general public; she should have only occasional and
superficial interactions with co-workers; and she should not
be required to work at a production pace (i.e., an assembly
type job or tandem tasks).
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Manzanares was unable to
perform her past relevant work as a medical records worker,
cashier, leasing agent, or sales representative. AR 27. The
ALJ found Ms. Manzanares was not disabled at step five,
concluding that she still could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy-such as
addresser, shirt folder, and linen room attendant. AR 27-29.
Manzanares requested review by the Appeals Council. AR 12. On
November 4, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for
review. AR 1-4. Ms. Manzanares timely filed her appeal to
this Court on December 29, 2016. Doc. 1.
Ms. Manzanares's Claims
Manzanares raises three arguments for reversing and remanding
this case: (1) the ALJ failed to provide legitimate reasons
for rejecting the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Roxana Raicu; (2) the ALJ failed to incorporate all of the
moderate limitations opined by state agency non-examining
psychologists Christal Janssen, Ph.D. and Carol Mohney,
Ph.D.; and (3) the ALJ's step five finding is not
supported by substantial evidence because she failed to
conduct the analysis required in cases where the number of
jobs available in the national economy is questionable. Doc.
14 at 12-23. Because the Court remands based on the ALJ's
failure to properly analyze the opinions Drs. Janssen and
Mohney, the Court does 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. 2003).
The ALJ Erred in Failing to Either Incorporate, or Explain
Why She Rejected, a Moderate Limitation Noted in the Medical
Opinions of Drs. Janssen and Mohney.
an ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence, the ALJ must
discuss the weight assigned to each medical source opinion.
Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1161 (10th
Cir. 2012) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2)(ii),
416.927(e)(2)(ii)). Specifically, when assessing a
plaintiff's RFC, an ALJ must explain what weight is
assigned to each opinion and why. SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183,
at *5 (July 2, 1996). “If the RFC assessment conflicts
with an opinion from a medical source, the adjudicator must
explain why the opinion was not adopted.” SSR 96-8p,
1996 WL 374184, at *7. “[T]here is no requirement in
the regulations for a direct correspondence between an RFC
finding and a specific medical opinion on [a specific]
functional capacity” because “the ALJ, not a
physician, is charged with determining a claimant's RFC
from the medical record.” Chapo v. Astrue, 682
F.3d 1285, 1288 (10th Cir. 2012) (alteration and internal
quotation marks omitted)); see also Wells v. Colvin,
727 F.3d 1061, 1071 (10th Cir. 2013) (“exact
correspondence between a medical opinion and the mental RFC
is not required”). Nevertheless, “[a]n ALJ is not
entitled to pick and choose through an uncontradicted medical
opinion, taking only the parts that are favorable to a
finding of nondisability.” Chapo, 682 F.3d at
1292 (quoting Haga v. Astrue, 482 F.3d 1205, 1208
(10th Cir. 2007)). An ALJ “must discuss the
uncontroverted evidence he chooses not to rely upon, as well
as significantly probative evidence he rejects.”
Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1010 (10th Cir.
1996). Ultimately, an ALJ is required to weigh medical source