United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
C. YARBROUGH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on the Social Security
Administrative Record (Doc. 17) filed July 31, 2018, in
support of Plaintiff Candace Melanie Vialpando's
Complaint (Doc. 1) seeking review of the decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration, denying Plaintiff's claim
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
401 et seq. On November 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed
her Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing With
Supporting Memorandum (“Motion”). Doc. 24. The
Commissioner filed a Brief in Response on February 25, 2019
(Doc. 28), and Plaintiff filed a Reply on March 18, 2019
(Doc. 30). 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 not
well taken and is DENIED.
Background and Procedural Record
Candace Melanie Vialpando suffers from the following severe
impairments: fibromyalgia, coagulation disorder, and
affective disorder. Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 15. She alleges that she became disabled as of August 8,
2012. AR 15. She earned a bachelor's degree in education
and used to work a school teacher but was terminated by the
school district due to her absences. AR 42-43, 214.
February 18, 2015, Ms. Vialpando filed a claim of disability
under Title II of the Social Security Act. AR 180. Her
application was denied on May 12, 2015 (AR 117), and upon
reconsideration on September 15, 2015 (AR 124).
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael Leppala
conducted a hearing on January 23, 2017. AR 28-68. Ms.
Vialpando appeared in person at the hearing with attorney
representative Michelle Baca. Id. The ALJ took
testimony from Ms. Vialpando and an impartial vocational
expert, Marsha Heald. Id.
3, 2017, ALJ Leppala issued an unfavorable decision. AR
10-22. On March 22, 2018, the Appeals Council issued its
decision denying Ms. Vialpando's request for review and
upholding the ALJ's final decision. AR 1-6. On May 5,
2018, Ms. Vialpando timely filed a Complaint seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 1.
Because the parties are familiar with Plaintiff's medical
history, the Court reserves discussion of the medical records
relevant to this appeal for its analysis.
Disability Determination Process
individual is considered disabled if 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) (pertaining
to disability insurance benefits); see also Id.
§ 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 evaluation process (“SEP”) to
determine whether a person satisfies the statutory criteria
(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, he 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, he 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 his “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 [his 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 his 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).
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.
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).
“[W]hatever the meaning of ‘substantial' in
other contexts, the threshold for such evidentiary
sufficiency is not high.” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 2019 WL 1428885, at *3, __ S.Ct. __, (U.S.
Apr. 1, 2019). Substantial evidence “is ‘more
than a mere scintilla.'” Id. (quoting
Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). “It means-and means only- such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation
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 is not
required to discuss every piece of evidence, “the
record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the
evidence, ” and “the [ALJ's] reasons for
finding a claimant not disabled” must be
“articulated with sufficient particularity.”
Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir.
1996). But where the reviewing court “can follow the
adjudicator's reasoning” in conducting its review,
“and can determine that correct legal standards have
been applied, merely technical omissions in the ALJ's
reasoning do not dictate reversal.” Keyes-Zachary
v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The
court “should, indeed must, exercise common
sense.” Id. “The more comprehensive the
ALJ's explanation, the easier [the] task; but [the court]
cannot insist on technical perfection.” Id.
support of her Motion to Remand, Ms. Vialpando argues: the
ALJ impermissibly disregarded limitations in a state agency
non-examining consultant's opinion and failed to
sufficiently credit the opinion of her treating physician,
Dr. Dean. The Court does not find either argument compelling
and affirms the ALJ's decision.
The ALJ Did Not Improperly Disregard the State Agency
agency consultant Carol Mohney Ph.D, evaluated Ms.
Vialpando's medical records on April 30, 2015. AR 86-90.
Dr. Mohney reviewed and discussed the medical evidence and,
in answering questions relating to Ms. Vialpando's mental
residual functional capacity assessment
(“MRFCA”), assessed in worksheet format the
following “moderate limitations”:
. The ability to understand and remember
very short and simple ...