United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. Ritter U.S. Magistrate Judge
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff George David
Sigala's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing
with Supporting Memorandum [Doc. 16], filed May 9, 2018');">18.
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 entry of final
judgment. [Docs. 6, 7, 8]. Having studied the parties'
positions, the relevant law, and the relevant portions of the
Administrative Record (“AR”),
Court grants Mr. Sigala's Motion and remands this case
for further administrative fact finding.
Sigala claims that he cannot work for a variety of health
reasons. In reaching the opposite conclusion, the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his
case found that Mr. Sigala retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. In reaching this
finding, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), who described jobs that Mr. Sigala
can allegedly perform despite his limitations. However, two
of these jobs - telemarketer and credit authorizer - appear
inconsistent with Mr. Sigala's RFC, which restricts him
to only “occasional” interaction with coworkers,
supervisors and the general public. While the remaining job
identified by the VE arguably fits within Mr. Sigala's
RFC, the Court cannot confidently say that it exists in
“significant numbers in the national economy”
under the facts of this case. As such, the Court has no
choice but to reverse the ALJ's finding of nondisability,
and remand this case for further administrative fact finding.
Sigala filed an application with the Social Security
Administration for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act on October 5, 2012. AR
at 191-192. As grounds, Mr. Sigala alleged the disabling
conditions of “severe depression [and] [b]ack
problems.” AR at 81. Mr. Sigala alleged that
his conditions became severe enough to keep him from working
on March 10, 2008. AR at 191. The Administration
denied Mr. Sigala's claim initially and upon
reconsideration, and he requested a de novo hearing
before an ALJ. AR at 80-129.
Lillian Richter held a hearing on April 28, 2016. AR
at 31-79. On November 29, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision, finding that Mr. Sigala has not been under a
disability as defined in the Act from his alleged onset date
through his last date insured. AR at 8-29. In
response, Mr. Sigala filed a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order on December 5, 2019. AR at 18');">189-190.
After reviewing his case, the Appeals Council denied Mr.
Sigala's request for review on September 18');">18, 2017.
AR at 1-5. 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.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(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. Sigala had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from his alleged onset date through his date last insured.
AR at 13. At Step Two, she determined that Mr.
Sigala had the severe impairments of “history of
compression fractures in the thoracic spine, thoracic and
lumbar degenerative disc disease, obstructive sleep apnea,
hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, major depressive
disorder, [and] anxiety disorder.” AR at 13.
At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Sigala's
impairments, individually and in combination, do not meet or
medically equal the regulatory “listings.”
AR at 14-15. Mr. Sigala does not challenge these
findings on appeal. [See Doc. 16].
claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must
determine his RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 37418');">184, 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 37418');">184, at *1. In
this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Sigala retained the
lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds
frequently. He could stand and walk 2 hours in an 8-hour
workday and sit for 6 hours in an eight-hour workday. He
could occasionally climb ramps and stairs and could
occasionally balance, kneel, crouch and crawl. He could not
climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, and could not stoop. The
claimant should have avoided exposure to extreme heat and
cold, humidity, vibrations, unprotected heights, and moving
mechanical parts. He could not work with the arms overhead
but could reach frequently in all other directions. The
claimant was limited to work that was primarily performed at
the workstation. He could have occasional contact with
supervisors, coworkers, and members of the public. He
required the use of a handheld assistive device for purposes
AR at 15-16.
this RFC at Steps Four and Five, and relying on the testimony
of a VE, the ALJ determined that Mr. Sigala could not have
returned to his past relevant work as a locksmith.
AR at 21. However, the ALJ, relying on the testimony
of the VE, found that there were jobs that exist in
“significant numbers” in the national economy
that Mr. Sigala could have performed despite his limitations.
AR at 21-22. Specifically, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Sigala retained the functional capacity to work as a
telemarketer (160, 000 jobs nationally), a medical biller (2,
600 jobs nationally), or credit authorizer (8, 000 jobs
nationally) during the relevant time period. AR at
22. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Sigala was not
disabled as defined in the Social Security Act from his
alleged onset date through his date last insured and denied
benefits. AR at 22-23.