United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MARIA D. GARCIA CASAS,, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
C. YARBROUGH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record (Doc. 13) filed February 8, 2018, in
support of Plaintiff Maria D. Garcia Casas'
(“Plaintiff”) Complaint (Doc. 1) seeking review
of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff's claim for Title II disability
insurance benefits. On April 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed her
Motion to Reverse and Remand for Rehearing With Supporting
Memorandum (“Motion”). Doc. 19. The Commissioner
filed a Response in opposition on June 15, 2018 (Doc. 21),
and Plaintiff filed a Reply on July 20, 2018. Doc. 22. The
Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final
decision under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).
Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and the
applicable law and being fully advised in the premises, the
Court finds the Motion is well taken and is
Background and Procedural Record
Maria D. Garcia Casas (“Ms. Casas”) alleges that
she became disabled on March 30, 2011,  at the age of
forty-eight because of stage I thyroid cancer and diabetes.
Tr. 58 149, 449. Ms. Casas completed the sixth grade in
1974, speaks only Spanish, and worked as a thrift store
clothes sorter; restaurant cook and ironer; and cleaners, dry
cleaners, and tuxedo rental ironer. Tr. 431-44, 448-50.
March 3, 2012, Ms. Casas protectively filed an application
for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et
seq. Tr. 363-64. Ms. Casas' application was
denied on May 3, 2012. Tr. 104, 106-10. It was denied again
at reconsideration on August 2, 2013. Tr. 116-27, 142,
175-77. Ms. Casas requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Eric
Weiss initially conducted a hearing on December 29, 2014. Tr.
52-79. On March 2, 2015, ALJ Weiss issued an unfavorable
decision. Tr. 143-59. On March 2, 2015, the Appeals Council
remanded the case to ALJ Weiss with instructions to consider
Ms. Casas' maximum residual functional capacity during
the entire period and to provide rationale with specific
references to evidence of record, including weighing the
opinion evidence and developing evidence from the
claimant's treating source. Tr. 166-67. The Appeals
Council further instructed the ALJ to obtain evidence from a
vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed
limitations on the claimant's occupational base.
Id. ALJ Weiss conducted a second hearing on
September 8, 2016. Tr. 80-103. Ms. Casas appeared in person
with her attorney representative Michael Armstrong.
Id. On October 21, 2016, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. Tr. 30-45.
December 22, 2016, Ms. Casas submitted additional evidence to
the Appeals Council from her treating physician related to
her physical and mental impairments. Tr. 23-29. On September
5, 2017, the Appeals Council issued its decision denying Ms.
Casas' request for review and upholding the ALJ's
final decision. Tr. 1-6. On November 3, 2017, Ms. Casas
timely filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 1.
Disability Determination Process
individual is considered disabled if 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (pertaining
to disability insurance benefits); see also 42
U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(A) (pertaining to supplemental
security income disability benefits for adult individuals).
The Social Security Commissioner has adopted the familiar
five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a person
satisfies the statutory criteria as follows:
(1) At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, she is not disabled regardless of his
(2) At step two, the ALJ must determine the severity of the
claimed physical or mental impairment(s). If the claimant
does not have an impairment(s) or combination of impairments
that is severe and meets the duration requirement, she is not
(3) At step three, the ALJ must determine whether a
claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals in severity one
of the listings described in Appendix 1 of the regulations
and meets the duration requirement. If so, a claimant is
(4) If, however, the claimant's impairments do not meet
or equal in severity one of the listing described in Appendix
1 of the regulations, the ALJ must determine at step four
whether the claimant can perform her “past relevant
work.” Answering this question involves three phases.
Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir.
1996). First, the ALJ considers all of the relevant medical
and other evidence and determines what is “the most
[claimant] can still do despite [her physical and mental]
limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1),
416.945(a)(1). This is called the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). Id.
§§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3). Second, the ALJ
determines the physical and mental demands of claimant's
past work. Third, the ALJ determines whether, given
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of meeting those
demands. A claimant who is capable of returning to past
relevant work is not disabled.
(5) If the claimant does not have the RFC to perform her past
relevant work, the Commissioner, at step five, must show that
the claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience. If the Commissioner is unable to make
that showing, the claimant is deemed disabled. If, however,
the Commissioner is able to make the required showing, the
claimant is deemed not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (disability
insurance benefits); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)
(supplemental security income disability benefits);
Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731 (10th
Cir. 2005); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261
(10th Cir. 2005). The claimant has the initial
burden of establishing a disability in the first four steps
of this analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146, n.5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294, n. 5, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).
The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant is capable of performing work in the
national economy. Id. A finding that the claimant is
disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review
is conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 933 F.2d 799, 801
(10th Cir. 1991).
Standard of Review
Court must affirm the Commissioner's denial of social
security benefits unless (1) the decision is not supported by
“substantial evidence” or (2) the ALJ did not
apply the proper legal standards in reaching the decision. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d
1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir.
2004); Casias, 933 F.2d at 800-01. In making these
determinations, the Court “neither reweigh[s] the
evidence nor substitute[s] [its] judgment for that of the
agency.'” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270,
1272 (10th Cir. 2008). A decision is based on substantial
evidence where it is supported by “relevant evidence .
. . a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A
decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record[, ]”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118, or “constitutes
mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The agency
decision must “provide this court with a sufficient
basis to determine that appropriate legal principles have
been followed.” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005). Therefore, although
an ALJ ...