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Reyes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 23, 2019

Inga Jo Reyes, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Steven C. Trough, United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Social Security Administrative Record (Doc. 13) filed August 27, 2018, in support of Plaintiff Inga Jo Reyes' 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 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing With Supporting Memorandum (“Motion”). Doc. 18. The Commissioner filed a Brief in Response on January 18, 2019 (Doc. 21), and Plaintiff filed a Reply on February 18, 2019 (Doc. 23). 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 GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural Record

         Claimant Inga Jo Reyes suffers from the following severe impairments: peripheral neuropathy, spine disorders, curvature of the spine, affective disorders, diabetes mellitus, and anxiety disorders. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 14. She alleges that she became disabled as of August 20, 2014. AR 11, 90. She has a high school-equivalent education and worked in the past as a restaurant server or hostess. AR 44-45, 50, 311.

         On August 28, 2014, Ms. Reyes filed concurrent claims of disability under Title II and Title XVI. AR 156. Her applications were initially denied on January 23, 2015 (AR 156-57), and upon reconsideration on June 23, 2015 (AR 192-93). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael Leppala conducted a hearing on March 30, 2017. AR 35. Ms. Reyes appeared in person at the hearing with attorney representative Michael Armstrong. Id. The ALJ took testimony from Ms. Reyes and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Phunda P. Yarbrough. AR 35, 253.

         On May 8, 2017, ALJ Leppala issued a partially favorable decision. AR 11-21. He determined that Ms. Reyes' date last insured is June 20, 2015. AR 13. He found that Ms. Reyes was not disabled between August 20, 2014 and January 28, 2016, but became disabled on January 28, 2016 when she turned fifty years old. AR 12, 21. He denied the Title II application because Ms. Reyes was not disabled as of her date last insured, but granted the Title XVI application for supplemental security income beginning on January 28, 2016. AR 21. Ms. Reyes requested review of the decision denying Title II benefits. On April 19, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Reyes' request for review and upheld the ALJ's final decision. AR 1-6. On June 20, 2018, Ms. Reyes timely filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 1. Because the parties are familiar with Ms. Reyes' medical history, the Court reserves discussion of the medical records relevant to this appeal for its analysis.

         II. Applicable Law

         A. Disability Determination Process

         An 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 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 as follows:

(1) At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.”[2] If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled regardless of her medical condition.
(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 disabled.
(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 presumed disabled.
(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, ...

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