United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. RITTER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Gabriel Lee's
Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing with Supporting
Memorandum [Doc. 18], 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 and enter final judgment. [Docs. 5, 7, 8]. Having
reviewed the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and
the relevant portions of the Administrative Record,
Court will deny Mr. Lee's Motion.
Court's institutional role in a social security appeal is
specific and narrow. This Court must affirm the decision of
the Acting Commissioner where it is shown to be supported by
substantial evidence and is free from harmful legal error.
Mr. Lee argues that the administrative law judge
("ALJ") who denied his claim failed to meet these
deferential standards by improperly weighing his treating
psychologist's opinion, failing to incorporate moderate
limitations found by the Administration's non-examining
physician into his residual functional capacity
("RFC"), and declining to conduct a drug addiction
and alcoholism ("DAA") assessment after concluding
that Mr. Lee is not disabled despite his alcoholism.
[See Doc. 18, p. 2]. The Court, however, finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to only
afford "some weight" to Mr. Lee's treating
psychologist, and that Mr. Lee's alternative arguments
for reversal are foreclosed by binding case law. Therefore,
the decision of the Acting Commissioner must be affirmed.
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act on November 9 and 10, 2015. AR
at 215-222. Mr. Lee alleged a disability onset date of July
21, 2014, due to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; Major
Depressive Disorder; Traumatic Brain Injury; Anxiety; Chronic
Headaches; and, "painful tingling in arms and
hands." AR at 255. The Administration denied
Mr. Lee's claims initially and upon reconsideration, and
he requested a de novo hearing before an ALL
AR at 79-158.
Michael Leppala held a hearing on July 11, 2017, at which Mr.
Lee and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified.
AR at 30-78. Thereafter, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on November 16, 2017. AR at
10-29. Mr. Lee requested review of the ALJ's decision by
the Appeals Council, but on January 13, 2018, the Council
denied his request for review. 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 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
Mr. Lee has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
his alleged onset date. AR at 16. At Step Two, he
determined that Mr. Lee has the following severe impairments:
affective disorder, anxiety disorder and alcohol addiction
disorder. AR at 16. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded
that Mr. Lee's impairments do not meet or medically equal
the regulatory "listings." AR at 17-18.
Mr. Lee does not challenge these findings on appeal.
claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must
determine his residual functional capacity ("RFC").
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 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. Lee retains the RFC to:
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-ex ertional limitations: can
understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions and
make commensurate work-related decisions, respond
appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work situations,
deal with routine changes in work setting, maintain
concentration, persistence, and pace for up to and including
two hours at a time with normal breaks throughout a normal
workday. He is limited to superficial interaction with
coworkers, supervisors, and the general public.
AR at 18. Employing this RFC at Steps Four and Five,
and relying on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined
that Mr. Lee can return to his past relevant work as a line
cook and dishwasher, precluding benefits at Step Four.
AR at 22. However, the ALJ also determined that
there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Mr. Lee can perform, precluding
benefits at Step Five. AR at 23. Specifically, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Lee retains the capacity to work as a
machine cleaner and landscape specialist. AR at 23.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Mr. Lee is not disabled as
defined in the Social Security Act, and denied benefits.
AR at 24.
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, 805 F.3d 1199,
1201 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Marys v. Colvin, 739
F.3d 569, 571 (10th Cir. 2014)). "[I]n making this
determination, [this Court] cannot reweigh the evidence or
substitute [its] judgment for the administrative law
judge's." Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264,
1266 (10th Cir. 2016). The Court must exercise "common
sense" when determining whether the substantial evidence
standard has been met; if the Court can follow the ALJ's
reasoning, the decision must stand. Keyes-Zachary v.
Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The
standard for a decision to be supported by substantial
evidence is low. '"Substantial evidence' means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." 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).
argues that the ALJ should have given greater weight to the
opinions of his treating psychologist, Gabriel Longhi, Psy.D.
[Doc. 18, p. 2]. Mr. Lee also argues that the ALJ erred by
improperly picking and choosing among the moderate
limitations found by non-examining consultant Scott Walker,
M.D. Finally, Mr. Lee argues that the ALJ was required to
conduct a DAA evaluation in his case, and failed to do so.
The Court disagrees.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to only
give "some weight" to Dr. Longhi's
law, "[i]t is the ALJ's duty to give consideration
to all the medical opinions in the record. ... He must also
discuss the weight he assigns to such opinions."
Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue,695 F.3d 1156, 1161 (10th
Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). Mr. Lee does not argue that
the ALJ failed to comply with this requirement, only that the