United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand to Agency for Rehearing, with Supporting
Memorandum (Doc. 21) filed on February 5, 2018.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b),
the parties have consented to me serving as the presiding
judge and entering final judgment. See Docs. 4,
7, 12. Having considered the record,
submissions of counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds
Plaintiff's motion is well-taken and will be granted.
September 24, 2013, Ms. Sandra Pluma (Plaintiff) filed
applications with the Social Security Administration for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB)
under Title II of the Social Security Act (SSA), and for
Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the SSA.
Administrative Record (AR) at 193-202. Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of January 1, 2008. AR at 193, 197.
Disability Determination Services (DDS) determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled both initially (AR at 52-80) and
on reconsideration (AR at 81-108). Plaintiff requested a
hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the merits
of her applications. AR at 138-39.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified during the
de novo hearing. See AR at 26-51. ALJ Henry
Koltys issued an unfavorable decision on July 1, 2016. AR at
15-25. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 191-92), which
the council denied on July 17, 2017 (AR at 1-5).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).
Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings
claimant seeking disability benefits must establish that 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); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
The Commissioner must use a sequential evaluation process to
determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); see also Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
claimant has the burden at the first four steps of the
process to show: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; (2) she 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) her
impairment(s) meet or equal one of the listings in Appendix
1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404; or (4) pursuant to the
assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity
(RFC), she is unable to perform her past relevant work. 20
C.F.R §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv);
see also Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261
(10th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). “RFC is a
multidimensional description of the work-related abilities [a
claimant] retain[s] in spite of her medical
impairments.” Ryan v. Colvin, Civ. 15-0740
KBM, 2016 WL 8230660, at *2 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2016) (citing
20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(B); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)). If the claimant meets
“the burden of establishing a prima facie case of
disability[, ] . . . the burden of proof shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that” Plaintiff
retains sufficient RFC “to perform work in the national
economy, given [her] age, education, and work
experience.” Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261 (citing
Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 751 & n.2 (10th
Cir. 1988) (internal citation omitted)); see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).
One of the process,  ALJ Koltys found that Plaintiff “has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1,
2008, the alleged onset date.” AR at 13 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576, 416.971-976). At Step Two,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has the following
severe impairments: osteoarthritis and allied disorders;
depression; learning disorder; and drug and alcohol
dependence.” AR at 14 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” AR at 15 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925,
416.926). At Step Four, the ALJ found that while
Plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms[,
]” the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's
“statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of these symptoms . . . entirely consistent
with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record .
. . .” AR at 18. The ALJ considered the evidence of
record and found that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work .
. . except that [she] can only occasionally climb
ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She
cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
occasionally reach overhead with her right upper extremities,
push/pull with foot controls using her right lower extremity,
and push/pull with hand controls using her right upper
extremity. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme
cold, hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected
heights, and pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, gases,
and poor ventilation. She is further limited to simple,
AR at 17. ALJ Koltys found that Plaintiff “is unable to
perform any past relevant work.” AR at 20 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965). Instead, Plaintiff
“would be able to perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as machine operator . . .,
assembler . . ., and clerk.” AR at 21 (citations
omitted). The ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff is not
disabled. AR at 21.
Court must “review the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Lax v. Astrue,
489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal
citation omitted)). A deficiency in either area is grounds
for remand. Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156,
1161, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).
“Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084
(quoting Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172 (internal
quotation omitted)). “It requires more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation omitted) (alteration in
original)). The Court will “consider whether the ALJ
followed the specific rules of law that must be followed in
weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases,
but [it] will not reweigh the evidence or substitute [its]
judgment for the Commissioner's.” Id.
(quoting Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172 (internal
quotation marks and quotations omitted)).
possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the
evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's
findings from being supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. (quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200
(internal quotation omitted)). The Court “may not
‘displace the agenc[y's] choice between two fairly
conflicting views, even though the court would justifiably
have made a different choice ...