United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MICHAEL K. MAESTAS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision [Doc. 22],
filed on November 5, 2018, and his Memorandum Brief in
Support [Doc. 21], filed on November 2, 2018 (collectively,
“Motion”). The Commissioner responded on December
19, 2018. [Doc. 24]. Plaintiff replied on January 28, 2019.
[Doc. 25]. The parties have consented to my entering final
judgment in this case. [Doc. 14]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet his
burden as the movant to show that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal
standards or that his decision was not supported by
substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Motion will be denied
and the Commissioner's final decision, affirmed.
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). 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). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record, but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The 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.” Id. While a court
may not re-weigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
[Commissioner]'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] 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.
failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide
this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (quotation marks omitted).
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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),
1382c(a)(3)(A) (2018); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). At the first four
steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show: (1)
he is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (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) either meet or equal one of the
“Listings” of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) 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); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If he cannot show that his impairment meets
or equals a Listing, but he proves that he is unable to
perform his “past relevant work, ” the burden of
proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to show
that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
January 7, 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. Tr. 15.
Plaintiff alleged a disability-onset date of January 1, 2012.
Id. His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. ALJ Frederick E. Upshall, Jr.,
held a hearing on June 2, 2015, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Tr. 15, 38. Plaintiff appeared in person at the hearing with
his attorney. Tr. 15, 40. The ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”), Patricia McLaughlin. Tr. 38-89.
issued his unfavorable decision on April 25, 2016.
See Tr. 4. As an initial matter, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2016. Tr. 17. At step one, he found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “chronic pain disorder; arthropathies;
fibromyalgia; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD)[;] and mild neurocognitive disorder.”
Id. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's seizure
disorder was not severe. Tr. 17-18.
three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 18-19. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 19-25. The ALJ found
has the [RFC] to perform a range [of] medium work as defined
in 20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). He is
able to lift up to 50 pounds occasionally, and lift or carry
up to 25 pounds frequently. Pushing and pulling is limited
only by the exertional limitation. He can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps
or stairs and can occasional stoop, crouch, crawl and kneel.
Bilateral reaching in all directions, handling and fingering
are limited to occasionally. He must avoid all use of moving
machinery and all exposure to unprotected heights. He is
limited to simple, routine, repetitive unskilled tasks
(reasoning level 2); performed in a work environment free of
fast-paced production requirements; ...