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Martinez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 20, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Performing the duties and functions not Reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Gloria N. Martinez' Motion to Remand her Social Security case, filed March 8, 2018. [Doc. 25]. The Court has also considered Mrs. Martinez' response to the Court's Order to Show Cause and her Supplemental Motion to Remand. [Docs. 26');">26, 30]. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b), the parties have consented to the undersigned to conduct dispositive proceedings in this matter, including the entry of final judgment. [Doc. 18]. Having considered the parties' positions, the relevant law, and the relevant portions of the Administrative Record (“AR”), the Court denies Mrs. Martinez' Motion, for the reasons set forth below.


         Mrs. Martinez, who is proceeding pro se, [1] generally asserts that her case should be remanded to the Social Security Administration. Liberally construing her various statements, she complains that a consultative examiner, Dr. Wynne, violated her rights by assessing her dress and hygiene as part of his psychological examination. [Docs. 26');">26, 30]. She also argues that the limitations found by this examiner preclude her from performing basic work activities, assumedly in contrast to the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) conclusion that she can perform some work. [Doc. 26');">26, p. 2]. Finally, she appears to challenge the ALJ's credibility determination by asserting that she was very active and had a consistent work history prior to claiming disability. [Doc. 30]. Unfortunately for Mrs. Martinez, none of her claims warrant reversal of the ALJ's decision.


         Mrs. Martinez filed applications with the Social Security Administration for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act on December 20, 2012. AR at 161-170. She alleged a disability onset date of June 1, 2010, the day she stopped working due to “Depression, Thyroid condition, Vertigo, PTSD, [and] Anxiety.” AR at 161, 200.

         The Administration denied Mrs. Martinez' claims initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a de novo hearing before an ALJ. AR at 56-119. ALJ Eric Weiss held an evidentiary hearing on February 25, 2015. AR at 26');">26-55. Mrs. Martinez appeared pro se, and elected to proceed without an attorney or other representative. AR at 30-31. On September 5, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Mrs. Martinez has not been disabled as defined by law from her alleged onset date through the date of his decision. AR at 6-25. Mrs. Martinez requested review of the ALJ's decision on October 6, 2015, AR at 4-5, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review on November 9, 2016. AR at 1-3. As such, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003). This Court now has jurisdiction to review the decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a).

         A 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).[2]

         At Step One of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mrs. Martinez has not engaged in “substantial gainful activity” since her alleged onset date. AR at 11. At Step Two, he determined that she has the “severe” impairments of “(i) anxiety disorder; (ii) depression disorder; (iii) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and, (iv) vertigo[.]” AR at 11. However, at Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Mrs. Martinez' impairments, individually and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the regulatory “listings.” AR at 12-13. This means that the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's impairments, though severe, were severe enough to prevent Mrs. Martinez from doing any gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 416.925.

         When a claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine her “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). RFC is a multidimensional description of the work-related abilities a claimant retains in spite of her medical impairments and limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). “RFC is not the least an individual can do despite his or her limitations or restrictions, but the most.” SSR 96-8p. 1');">p. 1996 WL 374184, at *1. In this case, the ALJ determined that Mrs. Martinez retains the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she may: lift up to twenty (20) pounds occasionally and lift or carry up to ten (10) pounds frequently, and push or pull the same; stand or walk for up to six (6) hours per eight-hour day and sit for up to six (6) hours per eight-hour day with normal breaks; frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; avoid more than occasional exposure to work place hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights; is limited to simple, routine tasks with only occasional changes in the work setting; and, is limited to occasional contact with the public, supervisors and co-workers.

AR at 13-14.

         Employing this RFC at Steps Four and Five of the process, and relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert, the ALJ determined that Mrs. Martinez is unable to perform her past relevant work as a cook's helper. AR at 18. However, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in “significant numbers” in the national economy that she can perform, despite her limitations. AR at 19. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Mrs. Martinez retains the functional capacity to work as an assembler, housekeeper, or electronics assembler. AR at 19. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mrs. Martinez is not disabled as a matter of law, and denied benefits. AR at 19.

         III) ...

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