Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Grantham v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 25, 2019

SHAWN RENE GRANTHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE CARMEN E. GARZA MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS 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.

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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 judicial review.

         On 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.

         On 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).

         On 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 appeal.

         Mr. 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.

         I. Standard of Review

         The 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. 1994).

         “Substantial 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)).

         II. Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process

         For 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.

         At the 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”[1] 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.

         III. Background

         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). 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.