United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. Ritter, U.S. Magistrate Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Clay Shannon
Crockett's Motion to Reverse and Remand for Payment of
Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing, with
Supporting Memorandum, [Doc. 20], filed March 28, 2018.
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. [Docs. 4, 10,
11]. Having studied the parties' positions, the relevant
law, and the relevant portions of the Administrative Record
(“AR”),  the Court grants Mr.
Crockett's Motion and remands this case for further
administrative fact finding, for the reasons set forth below.
considered disabled under the Social Security Act, a claimant
seeking supplemental security income benefits must
demonstrate that he is unable to return to his past work.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). If he does so,
the burden shifts to the Administration to prove that he can
still perform work that exists in “significant
numbers” in the national economy. See Raymond v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1274 (10th Cir. 2009). To meet
this burden, the Administration must prove the existence of
jobs that the claimant can do despite his impairments and
establish that those jobs exist in “significant
numbers.” See Chavez v. Barnhart, 126
Fed.Appx. 434, 436 (10th Cir. 2005) (unpublished). Failure to
prove both renders the Administration's denial of
benefits unsupported by substantial evidence.
Tenth Circuit “has never drawn a bright line
establishing the number of jobs necessary to constitute a
‘significant number[.]'” Trimiar v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1326, 1330 (10th Cir. 1992). Instead,
the Trimiar court set forth “several factors
[that] go into the proper evaluation of significant
numbers.” Id. In the absence of a discussion
of these factors, the Court should not supply the missing
factual finding - that the number of jobs identified by the
administration is “significant” in a particular
case. See Allen v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1140, 1145
(10th Cir. 2004). That said, the Tenth Circuit has applied
the principle of harmless error to affirm the failure of the
Administration to assess the Trimiar factors in
cases involving as few as 152, 000 jobs. See Evans v.
Colvin, 640 Fed.Appx. 731, 736 (10th Cir. 2016)
(unpublished). Unfortunately for the Administration, the
number of jobs it identified by the Administrative Law Judge
in this case (6, 400) is significantly lower than 152, 000.
not the first time this Court has been faced with a
“relatively small” number of jobs. See
Brandenburg v. Berryhill, CV 17-0507 JB/JHR, Doc. 27
(D.N.M. May 25, 2018), report and recommendation
adopted, 2018 WL 3062591 (D.N.M. June 21, 2018) (5, 200
jobs). As such, the Court finds itself bound by the
principles of both horizontal and vertical stare decisis,
insofar as it must follow the Tenth Circuit's legal
holdings and its own application of those holdings in
Brandenburg. See Black's Law
Dictionary, 710 (Fourth Pocket Ed. 2011). “Stare
decisis is the preferred course because it promotes the
evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal
principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and
contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the
judicial process.” Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State,
County, & Mun. Employees, Council 31, 138 S.Ct.
2448, 2478 (2018) (quoting Payne v. Tennessee, 501
U.S. 808, 827 (1991). Accordingly, for the reasons stated in
Brandenburg, reiterated and applied to this case
below, the Court will grant Mr. Crockett's Motion to
remand his case to the Administration for further review.
Crockett filed an application with the Social Security
Administration for supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on November 19,
2013. AR at 193-196. As grounds, Mr. Crockett
alleged “back problems, disc rupture, PTSD, ADHD [and]
reading problems.” AR at 211. Mr. Crockett
alleged that his conditions became severe enough to keep him
from working on January 1, 2013. AR at 211. The
Administration denied Mr. Crockett's claim initially and
upon reconsideration, and he requested a de novo
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR at 74-118.
Raul Pardo held an evidentiary hearing on August 11, 2016.
AR at 39-73. On October 7, 2016, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision, finding that Mr. Crockett has not been
under a disability from the date his application was filed
through the date of his decision. AR at 12-28. In
response, Mr. Crockett filed a “Request for Review of
Hearing Decision/Order” on November 9, 2016.
AR at 189-191. After reviewing his case, the Appeals
Council denied Mr. Crockett's request for review on July
26, 2017. AR at 1-6. 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).
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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The
Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
One of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Mr. Crockett has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his application date. AR at 17. At Step Two,
he determined that Mr. Crockett has the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia, and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)[.]”
AR at 17. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Mr.
Crockett's impairments, individually and in combination,
do not meet or medically equal the regulatory
“listings.” AR at 17-19. Mr. Crockett
does not challenge these findings on appeal. [See
claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must
determine his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). “RFC
is an administrative assessment of the extent to which an
individual's medically determinable impairment(s),
including any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause
physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and
mental activities.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2.
“RFC is not the least an individual can do
despite his or her limitations or restrictions, but the
most.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1. In
this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Crockett retains the
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except
he can occasionally stoop and can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
He is able to perform simple, routine tasks and can respond
appropriately to the public on an ...