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Ramey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 14, 2018

TAMARA LYNN RAMEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         On February 28, 2018, Plaintiff Tamara Lynn Ramey moved to reverse and remand the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Doc. 20. This matter has been referred to the undersigned for entry of proposed findings and a recommended disposition. Doc. 6. Upon review of the record and being fully advised in the premises, I recommend finding that the Appeals Council erred in failing to consider additional evidence Plaintiff submitted to the Appeals Council after the ALJ's decision. Therefore, I recommend that the Court grant Plaintiff's motion on this basis and remand this action for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on May 1, 2013. Administrative Record (“AR”) 63. She alleged a disability onset date of December 31, 2012. Id. After her claim was denied on initial review and upon reconsideration, her case was set for a hearing in front of an ALJ on February 12, 2016. Id.

         On March 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 63-72. In arriving at his decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2012, her alleged onset date. AR 65. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: (1) migraine headaches; (2) cervical disc bulges; (3) mood disorder; and (4) depression. AR 65. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's remaining impairments were non-severe. AR 65-66. Further, with regard to the severe impairments, the ALJ found that these impairments, individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 66.

         Because he found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet a Listing, the ALJ then went on to assess Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). AR 67-71. The ALJ stated that

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant is able to frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She is able to frequently balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. The claimant must avoid more than occasional exposure to extreme wetness and humidity, and must avoid more than occasional exposure to unprotected heights. She is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and make commensurate work related decisions, and adjust to routine changes in work setting. She is able to interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public. She is able to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for two hours at a time during the workday with normal breaks.

AR 67. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 71. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ then determined at step five that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and her RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. AR 71-72.

         After the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application, Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council and, in connection with that review, submitted evidence not previously before the ALJ. AR 2. At issue in this case are two medical source statements Plaintiff submitted to the Appeals Council:

1. Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) Sandra Sorrell's Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Mental) and Listing Criteria for 12.04 and 12.06, signed and dated May 12, 2016 (AR 10-13); and
2. Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) Annette Maxedon's Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Physical and Non-Physical), dated and signed May 6, 2016 (AR 19-20).

         The Appeals Council found that the above “additional evidence does not relate to the period at issue[, and therefore does] not affect the [ALJ's] decision.” AR 2. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 21, 2017. AR 1. This appeal timely followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises three arguments. First, she argues that the Appeals Council committed legal error in determining that the medical source statements from LMFT Sorrell and CNP Maxedon did not constitute new, material, and chronologically pertinent evidence. Doc. 20 at 13-18. Second, she contends that the ALJ breached his duty to develop the record to clarify ambiguities regarding Plaintiff's physical impairments due to her Chiari malformation. Id. at 18-22. Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to account for her subjective allegations of pain and other symptoms in formulating Plaintiff's RFC. Id. at 22-26. I do not address Plaintiff's second and third arguments concerning the ALJ's ruling because Plaintiff's first argument concerning the Appeals Council is dispositive.

         1. ...


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