United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Sonja Lynn
Perrault's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing With Supporting Memorandum (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 17), filed October 8, 2018;
Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's Brief in
Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand the
Agency's Administrative Decision (the
“Response”), (Doc. 19), filed December 10, 2018;
and Ms. Perrault's Reply to Brief in Response to
Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand the Agency's
Administrative Decision (the “Reply”), (Doc.
22), filed January 15, 2018.
Perrault filed an application for disability insurance
benefits on August 8, 2014, alleging disability beginning May
26, 2014. (Administrative Record “AR” 10). Ms.
Perrault claimed she was limited in her ability to work due
to: post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”);
sleep apnea; depression; anxiety; fibromyalgia; migraines;
arthritis; tinnitus; hypothyroidism; hip impingement
syndrome; overactive bladder; sinusitis; adjustment disorder;
pain and problems with both knees, left shoulder, and left
ankle; neuropathy; lumbar strain; hypertension;
gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”); and
allergic rhinitis. (AR 237-38). Ms. Perrault's
application was denied initially on February 2, 2015, and
upon reconsideration on May 21, 2015. (AR 10). A request for
a hearing was filed, and a hearing was held on October 13,
2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Myriam C. Fernandez. (AR 28). Ms. Perrault and Pamela A.
Bowman, an impartial vocational expert (“VE”),
testified at the hearing, and attorney Connie Squires
represented Ms. Perrault at the hearing. (AR 28-65).
November 12, 2015, ALJ Fernandez issued her decision, finding
Ms. Perrault not disabled at any time between her alleged
disability onset date through the date of the decision. (AR
23). Ms. Perrault requested review by the Appeals Council,
(AR 6), which was denied, (AR 2-5). Ms. Perrault then
appealed the Commissioner's decision to the United States
District Court for the District of New Mexico. Perrault
v. Social Security Administration, No. CV 16-243 LAM. On
February 6, 2017, the Court granted the Commissioner's
unopposed motion to remand the case to the Commissioner for
further proceedings. Perrault, No. CV 16-243 LAM,
remand, the Appeals Council issued an order vacating the
Commissioner's prior decision and remanding the case to
an ALJ for further proceedings. (AR 1454-57). A second
hearing was held on October 26, 2017, before ALJ Ann Farris.
Ms. Perrault, VE Nicole B. King, and Ms. Perrault's
sister, Heather Freed, appeared and testified at the hearing,
and attorney William Scott Rode represented Ms. Perrault at
the hearing. (AR 1430-53). On January 18, 2018, ALJ Farris
issued a decision finding that Ms. Perrault became disabled
on November 15, 2017, because her age category changed, but
she was not disabled prior to that date. (AR 1406-23).
Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984, this decision by ALJ
Farris is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes
of this appeal.
Perrault now raises the following arguments on appeal of ALJ
Farris' decision: (1) ALJ Farris failed to properly
consider the opinions of her treating physician, Henry
Garcia, M.D.; (2) ALJ Farris failed to properly consider the
opinions of consultative examiner John Vigil, M.D.; and (3)
ALJ Farris failed to include a function-by-function
assessment of Ms. Perrault's work-related abilities.
(Doc. 17 at 14-26). The Court has reviewed the Motion, the
Response, the Reply, and the relevant law. Additionally, the
Court has meticulously reviewed the Administrative Record.
(Doc. 11). Because ALJ Farris erred in her consideration of
Dr. Garcia's opinions, the Court finds that Ms.
Perrault's Motion is well-taken and should be
GRANTED IN PART and this case
REMANDED for further proceedings.
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) (citing Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992)).
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); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). The Commissioner's
“failure to apply the correct legal standards, or to
show . . . that she has done so, are also grounds for
reversal.” Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017,
1019 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing Washington v. Shalala,
37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). A court should
meticulously review the entire record but should neither
re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118;
Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214. A court's review is
limited to the Commissioner's final decision, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), which is generally the ALJ's decision,
rather than the Appeals Council's denial of review.
O'Dell v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (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; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. An ALJ's
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.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. While the Court may not re-weigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo, its examination of the record
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
ALJ]'s findings from being supported by substantial
evidence.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084
(10th Cir. 2007) (citing Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372
F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
purposes of disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income claims, a claimant establishes a disability
when 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), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A),
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In order to
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process
(“SEP”). Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant bears the burden of
showing: (1) she is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; (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 either (3) her impairment(s) meet or
equal one of the “Listings” of presumptively
disabling impairments; or (4) she 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). If the ALJ determines the claimant cannot engage in
past relevant work, the ALJ will proceed to step five of the
evaluation process. At step five the Commissioner bears the
burden of showing 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. Grogan, 399 F.3d at
Perrault applied for disability insurance benefits due to:
PTSD; sleep apnea; depression; anxiety; fibromyalgia;
migraines; arthritis; tinnitus; hypothyroidism; hip
impingement syndrome; overactive bladder; sinusitis;
adjustment disorder; pain and problems with both knees, left
shoulder, and left ankle; neuropathy; lumbar strain;
hypertension; GERD; and allergic rhinitis. (AR 237-38). At
step one, ALJ Farris determined that Ms. Perrault had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 26, 2014,
the alleged onset date. (AR 1409). At step two, ALJ Farris
concluded that since the alleged onset date Ms. Perrault has
had the following severe impairments: lumbar and cervical
degenerative disc disease; osteoarthritis of the left knee
and hip; osteoarthritis of the right shoulder; PTSD;
obstructive sleep apnea; fibromyalgia; borderline and
dependent personality disorder; depression; and ...