United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION
FASHING, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Dana Grace
Austin's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of
Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing, with
Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 17), which was fully briefed on
December 20, 2017. Docs. 19, 20, 21. The parties consented to
my entering final judgment in this case. Docs. 4, 7, 8.
Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to apply
the correct legal standards in weighing the opinion of
consultative psychological examiner Dr. Louis Wynne. The
Court therefore GRANTS Ms. Austin's motion and remands
this case to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with
Standard of Review
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner's final decision  is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings and the correct legal standards
were applied, the Commissioner's decision stands, and the
plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004).
“The 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.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and
brackets omitted). The Court must meticulously review the
entire record, but may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A decision “is not
based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla of
evidence supporting it.” Id. While the Court
may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
ALJ's findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“‘The possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the] findings
from being supported by substantial evidence.'”
Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the evaluation
process, the claimant must show: (1) the claimant is not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity;” (2)
the claimant 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) the impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1260-61.
If the claimant cannot show that his or her impairment meets
or equals a Listing but proves that he or she is unable to
perform his or her “past relevant work, ” the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to
show that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and
work experience. Id.
Background and Procedural History
Austin, currently age 54, dropped out of high school after
the ninth grade, and later completed a GED and a two-year
pharmacy technician program at a community college. AR 163,
167, 349. She worked for over five years on a
production line, and for over 14 years as a pharmacy
technician. AR 168. She filed an application for disability
insurance benefits on April 26, 2013, alleging disability
since February 5, 2013 due to bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia,
degenerative disk disease, anxiety, post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, and panic attacks. AR
146, 163, 166. The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied her claim initially on June 24,
2013. AR 89-94. The SSA denied her claims on reconsideration
on February 11, 2014. AR 96-101. Ms. Austin requested a
hearing before an ALJ. AR 102. On May 13, 2015, ALJ Myriam
Fernandez Rice held a hearing. AR 30-55. ALJ Fernandez Rice
issued her unfavorable decision on August 19, 2015. AR 11-29.
found that Ms. Austin was insured for disability benefits
through December 31, 2017. AR 16. At step one, the ALJ found
that Ms. Austin had not engaged in substantial, gainful
activity since February 5, 2013, her alleged onset date.
Id. Because Ms. Austin had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity for at least twelve months, the
ALJ proceeded to step two. Id. At step two, the ALJ
found that Ms. Austin had the following severe impairments:
depressive disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety
disorder, fibromyalgia, and degenerative disk disease.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Ms.
Austin's impairments, alone or in combination, met or
medically equaled a Listing. AR 16-18. Because the ALJ found
that none of the impairments met a Listing, the ALJ assessed
Ms. Austin's RFC. AR 18-23. The ALJ found that Ms. Austin
had the RFC to perform light work
except she can lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and
up to 10 pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk for
approximately six hours total in an eight-hour workday; and
can sit for approximately four hours total in an eight-hour
workday. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
She can occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb
ramps or stairs. She is to avoid even moderate use of moving
machinery and exposure to unprotected heights. She is able to
maintain, understand, and remember simple work instructions
with occasional changes in work setting. She is limited to
only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers.
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Austin was unable to perform
her past relevant work as a pharmacy technician. AR 23. The
ALJ found Ms. Austin was not disabled at step five,
concluding that she still could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy-such as ...