United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Stephan M. Vidmar United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and Remand for Payment of Benefits, or in the
Alternative, for Rehearing, with Supporting Memorandum [Doc.
15], filed on January 15, 2019. The Commissioner responded on
March 5, 2019. [Doc. 17]. Plaintiff replied on March 27,
2019. [Doc. 18]. The parties have consented to my entering
final judgment in this case. [Doc. 8]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards
in evaluating Dr. Owen's, Dr. Parmley's, and Dr.
Manole's opinions. Accordingly, the Motion will be
granted, and the case will be remanded for further
proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2018)
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). 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). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The 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.” Id. While a court
may not re-weigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
[Commissioner]'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] 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.
‘failure to apply the correct legal standard or to
provide this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.'” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436
F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Byron v.
Heckler, 742 F.2d 1232, 1235 (10th Cir. 1984)).
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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) (2018); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2012). At the first
four steps of the evaluation process, the claimant must show:
(1) he is not engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”; and (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 (3) his
impairment(s) either 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), 416.920(a)(4)(i-iv); Grogan,
399 F.3d at 1261. If he cannot show that he impairment meets
or equals a Listing, but he proves that he is unable to
perform his “past relevant work, ” the burden of
proof then shifts to the Commissioner, at step five, to show
that the claimant is able to perform other work in the
national economy, considering his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on July 5, 2016.
Tr. 15. He alleged a disability-onset date of June 30, 2016.
Id. His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. ALJ Stephen Gontis held a
hearing on March 7, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr. 15.
Plaintiff appeared in person at the hearing with his
attorney. Tr. 38. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and
an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Sandra
Trost, who testified via telephone. Id.
issued his unfavorable decision on April 23, 2018. Tr. 30. He
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2021. Tr. 17. At
step one, he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date.
Id. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments:
“hernias, diabetes mellitus, and affective
disorders.” Tr. 18. The ALJ also found that
Plaintiff's mild obstructive sleep apnea was not severe.
three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 18-21. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 21-28. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had:
the [RFC] to lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally and
twenty-five pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can stand and/or
walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal
breaks. [Plaintiff] can sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] can push and/or pull
fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently.
[Plaintiff] can frequently climb ramps and stairs, and
occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can
frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He can
never work at unprotected heights. He is limited to simple,
routine tasks. He can have frequent interactions with
supervisors, and occasional ...