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Tenorio v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 11, 2019

RAY TENORIO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Ray Tenorio's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum, [Doc. 15], filed April 6, 2018. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b), the parties have consented to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct dispositive proceedings in this matter, including the entry of final judgment. [Docs. 4, 7, 8]. Having studied the parties' positions, the relevant law, and the relevant portions of the Administrative Record (“AR”),[1] the Court grants Mr. Tenorio's Motion for the reasons set forth below.


         This Court's institutional role is to ensure that the Commissioner's decision to deny Social Security benefits is supported by the law and substantial evidence. In this case, the Commissioner failed to meet both standards when she effectively rejected the uncontroverted medical diagnoses and opinions of consultative examiner Paula Hughson, M.D. As such, the Court has no choice but to remand Mr. Tenorio's case for additional proceedings.


         Mr. Tenorio filed an application with the Social Security Administration for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on August 7, 2013. AR at 187-188. He alleged a disability onset date of November 2, 2002, due to “PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, Seizures, Right Ear Deafness, Right Eye Blindness, No. Left Kidney, [and] Memory Loss - Both Short and Long term.” AR at 93-94. The Administration denied Mr. Tenorio's claim initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). AR at 92-137.

         ALJ Raul Pardo held an evidentiary hearing on September 23, 2016. AR at 48-91. On December 28, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Mr. Tenorio has not been under a disability from his alleged onset date through the date of his decision. AR at 26-47. In response, Mr. Tenorio filed a “Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order” on February 9, 2017. AR at 185-186. After reviewing his case, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Tenorio's request for review on November 6, 2017. AR at 1-2. 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).

         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. § 416.920(a)(4).[2]

         At Step One of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. Tenorio has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date. AR at 31. At Step Two, he determined that Mr. Tenorio has the severe impairments of “vision disturbance in right eye; right ear hearing loss; anxiety; depression, seizures, [and] alcohol abuse in recent remission[.]” AR at 31. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Tenorio's impairments, individually and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the regulatory “listings.” AR at 33-36. Mr. Tenorio does not challenge these findings on appeal. [See Doc. 15].

         When a 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 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. Tenorio retains the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except he is able to handle frequently bilaterally; climb ramps and stairs occasionally and never ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and stoop occasionally. He is limited to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace (e.g., boxes on floor, doors ajar, etc.) due to vision issues; and to avoid unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts occasionally due to seizures. He is limited to moderate noise due to right ear deafness. The claimant is limited to simple, routine tasks; respond appropriately to public occasionally. Time off task can be accommodated with normal breaks.

AR at 36-37.

         Employing this RFC at Steps Four and Five, and relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert, the ALJ determined that Mr. Tenorio is unable to perform his past relevant work as a courtesy clerk and a janitor. AR at 42. However, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Tenorio can perform despite his limitations. AR at 42-43. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Mr. Tenorio retains the functional capacity to work as a cleaner housekeeper or office helper, despite his impairments. AR at 43. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Tenorio is not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act, and denied benefits. AR at 43.

         III) ...

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