United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Shawn Rene
Grantham's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing with Supporting Memorandum (the
“Motion”), (Doc. 21), filed November 21, 2018;
Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's Brief in
Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand the
Agency's Administrative Decision (the
“Response”), (Doc. 27), filed February 11, 2019;
and Mr. Grantham's Reply in Support of
Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a
Rehearing (the “Reply”), (Doc. 28), filed
February 25, 2019.
Grantham filed an application for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income on January 14,
2011. (Administrative Record “AR” 180, 186). In
both of his applications, Mr. Grantham alleged disability
beginning January 1, 2001. Id. He later amended his
alleged disability onset date to February 1, 2009. (AR 184).
Mr. Grantham claimed he was limited in his ability to work
due to a rod that was placed in his leg and back pain. (AR
226). Mr. Grantham's applications were denied initially
on August 11, 2011, (AR 109-13), and upon reconsideration on
November 7, 2011, (AR 124-27).
Grantham requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), (AR 131), which was held on April
15, 2014, before ALJ Barry O'Melinn. (AR 20). ALJ
O'Melinn issued his decision on July 25, 2014, finding
Mr. Grantham not disabled at any time between his initial
filing date through the date of his opinion. (AR 29). Mr.
Grantham requested review by the Appeals Council, (AR 14),
which was denied, (AR 1), making ALJ O'Melinn's
opinion the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of
January 22, 2016, Mr. Grantham filed a complaint in the
United States District Court for the District of New Mexico
requesting review of ALJ O'Melinn's decision. (AR
539). The Court reversed the Commissioner's decision,
concluding that ALJ O'Melinn failed to perform an
appropriate function-by-function analysis as directed by
Social Security Regulation (“SSR”) 96-8p. (AR
551). The Court therefore remanded the case for further
administrative proceedings and instructed the ALJ to analyze
“all of the evidence in the record and perform the
analysis as directed by SSR 96-8p.” Id.
remand, the Appeals Council vacated the Commissioner's
decision and directed that the case be assigned to an ALJ for
further proceedings. (AR 474). The Appeals Council noted
that, while his case was pending before the U.S. District
Court, Mr. Grantham had reapplied for supplemental security
income benefits. See (AR 693-98). Therefore, the
Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to combine Mr.
Grantham's claims and issue a new decision on the
consolidated claims. (AR 474).
January 18, 2018, Mr. Grantham appeared for a hearing before
ALJ Raul C. Pardo with attorney Michael Armstrong and
impartial Vocational Expert (“VE”) Ivory
Younglood. (AR 433). ALJ Pardo issued his decision March 2,
2018, finding Mr. Grantham not disabled at any time between
the initial filing date through the date of his decision. (AR
425). Mr. Grantham then requested review by the Appeals
Council, which was denied, making ALJ Pardo's opinion the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this
Grantham, represented by Mr. Armstrong, argues in his Motion
that ALJ Pardo made three reversible errors. (Doc. 21 at
1-2). First, Mr. Grantham argues ALJ Pardo improperly weighed
the medical opinions of consultative examiners Karl Moedl,
M.D., Em Ward, M.D., and John Vigil, M.D. Id. at 1.
Next, Mr. Grantham contends that ALJ Pardo erroneously
rejected his complaints of pain and did not weigh his
complaints using the correct legal standards. Id.
Finally, Mr. Grantham claims ALJ Pardo failed to resolve a
conflict between the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”). Id. at 1-2.
The Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply,
and the relevant law. Additionally, the Court has
meticulously reviewed the administrative record. Because ALJ
Pardo erred in his consideration of the opinions of Dr.
Moedl, Dr. Ward, and Dr. Vigil, the Court finds that Mr.
Grantham's Motion is well-taken and should be
GRANTED and this case be
REMANDED for further proceedings.
Standard of Review
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) (citing Hamilton v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1497-98 (10th Cir. 1992)).
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); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Doyal v. Barnhart,
331 F.3d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 2003). The Commissioner's
“failure to apply the correct legal standards, or to
show . . . that she has done so, are also grounds for
reversal.” Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017,
1019 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing Washington v. Shalala,
37 F.3d 1437, 1439 (10th Cir. 1994)). A court should
meticulously review the entire record but should neither
re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118;
Hamlin, 365 F.3d at 1214. A court's review is
limited to the Commissioner's final decision, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), which is generally the ALJ's decision,
rather than the Appeals Council's denial of review.
O'Dell v. Shalala, 44 F.3d 855, 858 (10th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214; Doyal, 331 F.3d at 760. An ALJ's
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.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118; Hamlin, 365 F.3d
at 1214. While the Court may not re-weigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo, its examination of the record
must include “anything that may undercut or detract
from the ALJ'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
ALJ]'s 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. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
purposes of supplemental security income and disability
insurance benefits, a claimant establishes a disability when
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), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In order to determine
whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a
five-step sequential evaluation process (“SEP”).
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
first four steps of the SEP, the claimant bears the burden of
showing: (1) he is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; (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 either (3) his impairment(s) 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); see also Grogan v. Barnhart,
399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). If the ALJ determines
the claimant cannot engage in past relevant work, the ALJ
will proceed to step five of the evaluation process. At step
five, the Commissioner bears the burden of showing that the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, considering the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
Grantham claimed he was limited in his ability to work due to
a rod that was placed in his leg and back pain. (AR 226). At
step one, ALJ Pardo determined that Mr. Grantham had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1,
2009, the amended alleged disability onset date. (AR 411). At
step two, ALJ Pardo found that Mr. Grantham has the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; arthritis of
the left knee; status ...