United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAP M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand [Doc. 24] (“Motion”), filed on
June 20, 2018. The Commissioner responded on August 9, 2018.
[Doc. 29]. Plaintiff replied on September 18, 2018. [Doc.
30]. The parties have consented to my entering final judgment
in this case. [Doc. 23]. Having meticulously reviewed the
entire record and being fully advised in the premises, the
Court finds that the Appeals Council erred in failing to
consider the evidence submitted to it. Accordingly, the
Motion will be GRANTED, and the case will be remanded for
further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2018) (sentence four).
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). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The 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 a 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
[Commissioner]'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. FAA, 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
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) (quoting Byron v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 1232, 1235
(10th Cir. 1984)).
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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) (2015); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1505(a) (2012).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2012); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the
evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1) she is not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity”;
and (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) either
meet or equal one of the Listings of presumptively disabling
impairments; or (4) she is unable to perform her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If
she cannot show that her impairment meets or equals a
Listing, but she proves that she is unable to perform her
“past relevant work, ” the burden of proof then
shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to show that the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on July 8, 2014. Tr. 11. She alleged a
disability-onset date of March 31, 2014. Id. Her
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Stephen Gontis held a hearing on February 27, 2017, in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 11, 35-69. Plaintiff appeared in
person with her attorney. Id. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Marsha N. Heald. Id.
issued his unfavorable decision on May 30, 2017. Tr. 23. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff would meet the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2019. Tr. 13. At step one
he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date. Id.
At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety,
depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Id.
Further, he found that Plaintiff's substance abuse
disorder and disorders of the gastrointestinal system, alone
or in combination, were not severe. Tr. 13-14.
three the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 14-16. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 16-21. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had:
the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels but with the following nonexertional limitations:
[Plaintiff] is limited to perform[ing] simple, routine tasks
that require no more than simple work-related decisions. She
can occasionally respond appropriately to supervisors and
co-workers, and should have no more than infrequent
superficial contact with the public. She is limited to