United States District Court, D. New Mexico
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
REVERSE AND REMAND
R. SWEAZEA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Robert Lewis Meese seeks review of the Commissioner's
determination that he is not entitled to disability benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383c. With the consent of the parties to
conduct dispositive proceedings in this matter, see
28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the Court has
considered Mr. Meese's Motion to Reverse and Remand for
Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum, filed October 16, 2017
(Doc. 22), the Commissioner's response in opposition,
filed November 16, 2017 (Doc. 24), and Mr. Meese's reply,
filed November 24, 2017 (Doc. 25), along with the remainder
of the record. Having so considered, the Court FINDS and
CONCLUDES that Mr. Meese's motion is well taken and
should be granted.
October 17, 2012 Mr. Meese filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, alleging that he
had been disabled since September 1, 2012, due to depression,
anxiety, PTSD, and a history of traumatic brain injury with
cognitive impairment. (AR 275). On March 7, 2013, it was
determined that Mr. Meese was not disabled and his claim was
denied. (AR 115-126). The denial was upheld on
reconsideration on August 6, 2013 (AR 127-140), and a
subsequent hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), held on July 2, 2015, again ended in a
denial. (AR 12-21). The ALJ's decision became final when,
on December 21, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Mr.
Meese's request for review. (AR 1-5); see Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000) (explaining that if
the Appeals Council denies a request for a review, the
ALJ's opinion becomes the final decision); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.900(a)(1)-(5).
review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to
determining “whether substantial evidence supports the
factual findings and whether the ALJ applied the correct
legal standards.” Allman v. Colvin, 813 F.3d
1326, 1330 (10th Cir. 2016). See also 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). “Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Langley v. Barnhart,
373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted).
“Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence in the record or constitutes mere
conclusion.” Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
1257, 1261-62 (10th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). The Court
must examine the record as a whole, “including anything
that may undercut or detract from the ALJ's findings in
order to determine if the substantiality test has been
met.” Id. “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.” Byron v.
Heckler, 742 F.2d 1232, 1235 (10th Cir. 1984) (quotation
omitted). Even so, it is not the function of the Court to
review Mr. Meese's claims de novo, and the Court may not
reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of
the ALJ. Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th
” as defined by the Social Security Act, is the
inability “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Act further adds that for the
purposes of § 423(d)(1)(A):
an individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate
disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140(1987). At the
first four steps of the process, the claimant must show that
he or she: (1) is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; (2) 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) has impairment(s) that either meet
or equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) is unable to perform
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4) (i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If a claimant does not establish an
impairment that meets or equals a Listing, but proves an
inability to perform his or 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
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
The ALJ's Determination.
detailed in the ALJ's written decision, the ALJ followed
the sequential analysis set forth above, first finding that
Mr. Meese had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of September 1, 2012. (AR 14).
At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Meese had the following
severe medically determinable impairments: post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), depressive disorder,
borderline intellectual functioning and organic brain
syndrome. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ
determined that none of Mr. Meese's impairments, whether
alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the
severity of a listed impairment. (AR. 15). Because none of
Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a
Listing, at step four the ALJ proceeded to assess Mr.
Meese's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”).
(AR. 16-19). The ALJ reasoned:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following limitations: He is able to understand, remember and
carry out only simple instructions including commensurate
work-related decisions. He may have occasional interaction
with the public, deal with routine changes in work setting
and maintain concentration, persistence and pace for two
hours at a time with normal breaks.
five, the ALJ determined that Mr. Meese was capable of
performing past relevant work as a hand packager and a
warehouse worker. (AR. 20) The ALJ also made the alternative
finding that other jobs exist in the national economy that
Mr. Meese is able to perform, including harvest worker,
janitor and meat trimmer. (AR. 20-21) The ALJ then concluded
that Mr. Meese has not been under a disability since October
17, 2012 when Mr. Meese filed his application for SSI
benefits. (AR. 21)
Mr. Meese's Challenges to the ...