United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision (Doc.
24) filed on April 10, 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. 5, 10, 11. Having
considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant
law, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken
and will be denied.
October 17 and 18, 2012, Ms. Ashley Wren (Plaintiff)
protectively filed applications with the Social Security
Administration for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(SSA), and for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI
of the SSA. Administrative Record (AR) at 225-26, 233-40.
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of March 15, 2012.
AR at 54, 70. Disability Determination Services (DDS)
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled both initially (AR
at 52-85) and on reconsideration (AR at 86-121). Plaintiff
requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on
the merits of her applications. AR at 141-42.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified during the
de novo hearing. See AR at 31-51. ALJ Barry
O'Melinn issued an unfavorable decision on March 8, 2016.
AR at 12-24. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of
Hearing Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 8),
which the council denied on April 12, 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 O'Melinn found that Plaintiff
“has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
March 15, 2012, the alleged onset date.” AR at 14
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576, 416.971-976).
At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has the
following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; rheumatoid
arthritis; degenerative disc disease; obesity with associated
obstructive sleep apnea; and mental impairments variously
diagnosed as bipolar disorder, anxiety, affective disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and poly substance variously
diagnosed as opiate dependence with impending withdrawals,
and alcohol and cannabis abuse.” AR at 14 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)).
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 credible .
. . .” AR at 18. The ALJ considered the evidence of
record and found that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work . . . . She is able to occasionally climb ramps and
stair [sic], but never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds.
She can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl;
she is able to frequently reach, handle, and finger with
bilateral upper extremities. She is able to understand,
remember, and carry out simple instructions, and make
commensurate work related decisions. She is able to respond
appropriately [to] supervision, coworkers, work situations,
and deal with routine changes in work setting. She is able to
maintain concentration, persistence, or pace for up to and
including 2 hours at a time, with norm [sic] breaks
throughout a normal workday. She is limited [to] simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks [and] only occasional changes
in work place environment. She is suitable for jobs involving
work primarily with things and not people.
AR at 17. ALJ O'Melinn then found at Step Four that
Plaintiff “is unable to perform any past relevant
work.” AR at 22 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1565, 416.965). Instead, at Step Five, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff can perform the positions of final assembler, table
worker, and stone setter. AR at 23. Therefore, ALJ
O'Melinn ultimately determined that Plaintiff “has
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from March 15, 2012, through the date of [the
ALJ's] decision . . . .” AR at 24 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g)).
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 ...