United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JOHNATHAN L. CARTER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision (Doc.
27) filed on April 26, 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, 7, 9. Having
considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant
law, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion is well-taken and
will be granted in part.
21, 2014, Mr. Johnathan Carter (Plaintiff) 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 11, 200-09. Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of December 1, 2013. AR at 11, 200,
204. Disability Determination Services (DDS) determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled both initially (AR at 93-94) and
on reconsideration (AR at 121-22). Plaintiff requested a
hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the merits
of his applications. AR at 142-43.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified during the
de novo hearing. See AR at 36-70. ALJ Ann
Farris issued an unfavorable decision on July 11, 2016. AR at
8-27. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 199), which the
council denied on August 28, 2017 (AR at 1-7). 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 he
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) he is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; (2) he 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) his 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), he is unable to perform
his 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 [his] 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 his 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. §§
One of the process,  ALJ Farris found that while Plaintiff did
perform some work after his alleged disability onset date,
the “work activity did not rise to the level of
substantial gainful activity.” AR at 13. Consequently,
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of December 1, 2013. AR at 13
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576, 416.971-976).
At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has the
following severe impairments: borderline intellectual
functioning (BIF) and schizoaffective bipolar
disorder.” AR at 13 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
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). In making her determination, ALJ Farris considered
listings 12.02 (neurocognitive disorders), 12.04 (affective
disorders), 12.05 (intellectual disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety
related disorders). AR at 14. The ALJ first examined whether
Plaintiff's mental impairments met the “paragraph
B” criteria. She found that Plaintiff has mild
restrictions in his activities of daily living, moderate
difficulties in the area of social functioning, and moderate
difficulties in the area of concentration, persistence or
pace. AR at 14. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has not
experienced any episodes of decompensation of extended
duration. AR at 14. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff
did not meet the “paragraph C” criteria of 12.04,
12.05, or 12.06. AR at 15.
Four, the ALJ found that while Plaintiff's
“medically determinable impairments might be expected
to cause some of the alleged symptoms[, ]” the ALJ
found that Plaintiff's “statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record . . . .” AR at 16.
Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels but with the following
nonexertional limitations: he must avoid hazards; he is
limited to simple routine tasks with reasoning level one; he
can have no interaction with the public; he is limited to
occasional and superficial contact with co-workers; he cannot
perform work with a production pace requirement.
AR at 15-16. ALJ Farris found that Plaintiff “is unable
to perform any past relevant work” (AR at 19), but he
is able to perform the positions of housekeeper/cleaner,
laundry laborer, or laborer in a commercial
setting/maintenance cleaner (AR at 20). The ALJ ultimately
determined that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
December 1, 2013, through the date of [the ALJ's]
decision.” AR at 20 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
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 (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 ...