United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ROYCE A. BEGAY, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand Administrative Agency Decision (Doc.
24) and Memorandum Brief in Support (Doc. 25)
filed on December 7, 2018. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to
me serving as the presiding judge and entering final
judgment. See Docs. 10, 17, 20. Having
considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant
law, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken
and will be denied.
21, 2014, Mr. Royce A. Begay (Plaintiff) filed applications
with the Social Security Administration for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (SSA), and for Supplemental
Security Income under Title XVI of the SSA. Administrative
Record (AR) at 247, 255. Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of March 15, 2012. AR at 16, 247, 255.
Disability Determination Services (DDS) determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled both initially (AR at 61-62) and
on reconsideration (AR at 97-98). Plaintiff requested a
hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the merits
of his applications. AR at 163-64.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified during the
de novo hearing. See AR at 35-60. ALJ
Frederick E. Upshall, Jr. issued an unfavorable decision on
March 24, 2017. AR at 13-32. Plaintiff submitted a Request
for Review of Hearing Decision/Order to the Appeals Council
(AR at 224-25), which the council denied on April 26, 2018
(AR at 1-6). Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See Doyal v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003).
Applicable Law and the ALJ's Findings
claimant seeking disability benefits 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); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Commissioner must use a
five-step sequential evaluation process to determine
eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); see also Wall v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009).
claimant has the burden at the first four steps of the
process to show: (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 (3) his impairment(s) meet or equal
one of the listings in Appendix 1, Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404; or (4) pursuant to the assessment of the claimant's
residual functional capacity (RFC), 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); see also
Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005)
(citations omitted). “RFC is a multidimensional
description of the work-related abilities [a claimant]
retain[s] in spite of [his] medical impairments.”
Ryan v. Colvin, Civ. 15-0740 KBM, 2016 WL 8230660,
at *2 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2016) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(B); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1)). If the claimant meets “the burden of
establishing a prima facie case of disability[, ] . . . the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that” Plaintiff retains sufficient RFC “to
perform work in the national economy, given his age,
education, and work experience.” Grogan, 399
F.3d at 1261 (citing Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
748, 751 & n.2 (10th Cir. 1988)); see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).
One of the process,  ALJ Upshall found that Plaintiff
“has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
March 15, 2012, the alleged onset date.” AR at 18
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576, 416.971-976).
At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has the
following severe impairments: above the knee amputation (AKA)
of the left leg, osteoarthritis, obesity, depressive disorder
and cognitive disorder.” AR at 18 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)). The ALJ noted that
Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: high
blood pressure, numbness in the hands, and gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD). AR at 19.
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” AR at 19 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925,
416.926). At Step Four, the ALJ considered the evidence of
record and found that Plaintiff
has the [RFC] to lift 10 pounds occasionally; stand and/or
walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday and sit for 6 hours in
an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks; pushing and/or pulling
is limited only by the ability to lift and/or carry; can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop; cannot crouch,
kneel or crawl; must avoid all use of moving machinery and
avoid all exposure [to] unprotected heights; requires the use
of a cane during periods of walking or standing; is limited
to simple, routine and repetitive reasoning level 2 tasks
performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production
requirements and involving only simple, work-related
decisions and with few, if any, workplace changes; and can
have only occasional contact with co-workers and the public
and occasional supervision.
21. ALJ Upshall found that Plaintiff “is unable to
perform any past relevant work.” AR at 24 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff can perform the jobs of addresser and toy stuffer.
ALJ at 25. The ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from March 15, 2012, through the date of
[the ALJ's] decision.” AR at 26 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g)).
Court must “review the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Lax v. Astrue,
489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hackett v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005)). A
deficiency in either area is grounds for remand.
Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1161, 1166
(10th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084
(quoting Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172). “It
requires more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Id. (quoting Zoltanski v.
F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir. 2004) (alteration
in original)). The Court will “consider whether the ALJ
followed the specific rules of law that must be followed in
weighing particular types of evidence in disability cases,
but [it] will not reweigh the evidence or substitute [its]
judgment for the Commissioner's.” Id.
(quoting Hackett, 395 F.3d at 1172 (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted)).
possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the
evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's
findings from being supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. (quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200).
The Court “may not ‘displace the agenc[y's]
choice between two fairly conflicting views, even though the
court would justifiably have made a ...