United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. RITTER U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Elizabeth
Samford's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing
with Supporting Memorandum, [Doc. 19');">19');">19');">19], filed August 3, 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”),
Court denies Ms. Samford's Motion for the reasons set
Court's institutional role is specific and narrow. The
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits must be upheld
where it is supported by substantial evidence and free from
harmful legal error. In this case, Ms. Samford argues that
the Commissioner's decision to deny her claim at Step Two
of the sequential evaluation process was unsupported by
substantial evidence because the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) who decided her claim rejected the
opinion of her treating psychologist, failed to accord proper
weight to the opinion of a consultative examiner, and failed
to ensure the record was complete. However, the Court finds
that substantial evidence, defined as “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion, ” Williamson v.
Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1097, 1098 (10th Cir. 2003), supports
the ALJ's treatment of the medical opinions and denial of
Ms. Samford's claim without further development of the
record. As such, the Commissioner's decision must be
Samford filed an application with the Social Security
Administration for supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on March 20, 2014.
AR at 117-120. She alleged a disability onset date
of June 1, 2003. AR at 117. However, Ms. Samford did
not stop working until November 21, 2013. AR at 147.
As grounds for disability, Ms. Samford alleged depressive
disorder. AR at 147. The Administration denied Ms.
Samford's claim initially and upon reconsideration, and
she requested a de novo hearing before an ALJ.
AR at 49-87.
Patrick Hannon held an evidentiary hearing on October 18,
2016. AR at 33-48. Ms. Samford appeared at the
hearing pro se, and declined additional time to
obtain an attorney or representative. AR at 36. She
also offered no objection to the admission of the evidence
that makes up the administrative record in her case.
AR at 36. On November 9, 2016, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision, finding that Ms. Samford has not been
under a disability from the date her application was filed
through the date of his decision. AR at 19');">19');">19');">19-29. In
response, Ms. Samford filed a “Request for Review of
Hearing Decision/Order” on December 5, 2016.
AR at 115-116. After reviewing her case, the Appeals
Council denied Ms. Samford's request for review on
December 27, 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. §
claimant seeking disability benefits must establish that 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 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
Ms. Samford has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her application date. AR at 21. At Step Two,
he determined that Ms. Samford has the medically determinable
impairments of “hypertension, uterine fibroid,
osteoarthritis, affective disorder, [and] substance addiction
disorder.” AR at 21. However, the ALJ
determined that none of Ms. Samford's impairments, either
singularly or in combination, were “severe” under
the regulations. AR at 22');">22. In other words, the ALJ
found that Ms. Samford does not have any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits her
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(c). As such, the ALJ ended his analysis
and denied benefits, see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4) (“If we can find that you are disabled or
not disabled at a step, we make our determination or decision
and we do not go on to the next step.”), finding that
Ms. Samford was not under a disability as defined in the
Social Security Act from her alleged onset date through the
date of his decision. AR at 28.
Court “review[s] the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards
were applied.” Vigil v. Colvin, 19');">19');">19');">199');">805 F.3d 119');">19');">19');">199,
1201 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Mays v. Colvin, 739
F.3d 569, 571 (10th Cir. 2014)). A deficiency in either area
is grounds for remand. Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695
F.3d 1156, 1161 (10th Cir. 2012). “‘Substantial
evidence' means ‘such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Racette v. Berryhill, 734
Fed.Appx. 592, 595 (10th Cir. 2018) (quoting Howard v.
Barnhart, 379 F.3d 945, 947 (10th Cir. 2004)). “It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080,
1084 (10th Cir. 2007). The Court reviews the record as a
whole, does not reweigh the evidence, and cannot substitute
its judgment for that of the agency. White v.
Berryhill, 704 Fed.Appx. 774, 776 (10th Cir. 2017)
(citing Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th
Samford argues that the ALJ erred in concluding that her
mental and physical impairments were not severe and
concluding the Sequential Evaluation Process at Step Two.
[Doc. 19');">19');">19');">19, p. 2]. In support, she argues that the ALJ failed
to properly weigh the opinions of her treating psychologist
and an examining physician. [Id.]. She also argues
that the ALJ breached his duty to develop the record.
[Id.]. For the reasons that follow, the Court
The ALJ reasonably concluded that Ms. Samford's medically
determinable impairments are not severe under the
Two, Ms. Samford “bore the burden” to demonstrate
“any impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits [her] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities.” See Williamson v.
Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1097, 1099 (10th Cir. 2003); 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(c). While the Tenth Circuit has
characterized this showing as “de minimis, ”
“the mere presence of a condition is not sufficient to
make a step-two showing.” Williamson, 350 F.3d
at 1100 (citing Hinkle v. Apfel, 132 F.3d 1349, 1352
(10th Cir. 19');">19');">19');">1997)). “In determining whether a severe
impairment exists, the Commissioner considers the
‘effect' of the impairment.” Id.
Thus, the claimant's impairment must be the
cause of the claimant's failure to obtain
substantial gainful work. Id. “If the
impairments are not severe enough to limit significantly the
claimant's ability to perform most jobs, by definition
the impairment does not present the claimant from engaging in
any substantial gainful activity.” Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (19');">19');">19');">1987). Thus, “[t]he
impairment severity requirement cannot be satisfied when
medical evidence shows that the impairment(s) has a minimal
effect on a person's ability(ies) to perform basic work
activities, that is, when he or she has the abilities and
aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” SSR 86-8, 19');">19');">19');">1986 WL
Examples of these are walking, standing, sitting, lifting,
pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handing; seeing,
hearing, and speaking; understanding, carrying out, and
remembering simple instructions; use of judgment, responding
appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work
situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work
SSR 85-28, 19');">19');">19');">1985 WL 56856, at *3.
the Commissioner, as opposed to a doctor, is responsible for
determining whether a claimant has a severe impairment.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d). However, a claim
may be denied at Step Two “only if the evidence shows
that the individual's impairments, when considered in
combination are not medically severe, i.e., do not have more
than a minimal effect on the person's physical or mental
ability(ies) to perform basic work activities. If such a
finding is not clearly established by medical
evidence… adjudication must continue through the
sequential evaluation process.” SSR 85-28, ...