United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse and/or Remand (Doc. 25), filed November 27,
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. 9,
18, 19. Having considered the record, submissions of
counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds Plaintiff's
motion is well-taken and will be granted.
25, 2014, Ms. Norma Morris (“Plaintiff”) filed an
application with the Social Security Administration for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (SSA). Administrative
Record (AR) at 62, 132-38. Plaintiff initially
alleged a disability onset date of April 1, 2010, but later
amended that date to November 6, 2014. AR at 33, 132.
Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2014. AR
at 17. Thus, the relevant period for purposes of her
disability determination was November 6, 2014, to December
31, 2014. Disability Determination Services
(“DDS”) determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled both initially (AR at 70) and on reconsideration (AR
at 82). Plaintiff requested a hearing with an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on the merits of her
applications. AR at 128.
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified during the de novo hearing before the ALJ.
See AR at 28-60. ALJ Doug Gabbard, II issued an
unfavorable decision on April 13, 2017. AR at 15-23.
Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 7-8), which the
Council denied on January 17, 2018 (AR at 1-3). 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 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); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a). The Commissioner must use a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(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) she is not engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”; (2) she 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) her
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”), she is unable to perform her 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) (citations omitted). “RFC is a multidimensional
description of the work-related abilities [a claimant]
retain[s] in spite of her 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 [her] 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).
One of the process, ALJ Gabbard found that Plaintiff
“last met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act on December 31, 2014.” AR at 17. He also
determined that she “did not engage in substantial
gainful activity during the period from her [initial] alleged
onset date of April 1, 2010 through her date last insured of
December 31, 2014.” AR at 17 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1571-1576). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative
disc disease of lumbar spine, carpal tunnel syndrome of right
hand, and degenerative joint disease of bilateral knee. AR at
17 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). The ALJ indicated
that Plaintiff had the following non-severe impairments: foot
callous, left hand carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and
hypertension. AR at 18. Finally, the ALJ noted
Plaintiff's allegations of sinusitis, joint dysfunction,
chronic pain, lump in neck, and dizziness but determined that
there was “insufficient evidence to establish medically
determinable impairments” as to those allegations. AR
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” AR at 18 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). At Step Four, the ALJ found
that while Plaintiff's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms, ” Plaintiff's “statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of
these symptoms [were] not entirely consistent with the
medical evidence and other evidence in the record . . .
.” AR at 21. The ALJ considered the evidence of record
and found as follows:
[T]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to
perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.] 404.1567(b)
except with occasional climbing of ramps/stairs; no climbing
of ladders/ropes/scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching and crawling; no walking on uneven
surfaces; occasional grasping, fingering and feeling with her
right dominant hand; and she must be allowed to alternately
sit and stand every 10 minutes throughout the workday for the
purpose of changing positions, but without leaving the
AR at 19. The ALJ went on to find that Plaintiff “was
unable to perform any past relevant work.” AR at 21
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565). But at Step Five, he
found that “[c]onsidering [Plaintiff's] age,
education, work experience, and [RFC], [she] had acquired
work skills from past relevant work that were transferable to
other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy.” AR at 22 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 404.1568(d)). More
particularly, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform the
positions of Conveyor line baker worker (DOT #524.687.022)
and Counter clerk (DOT #249.366.010). Consequently, he
determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability
from April 1, 2010, Plaintiff's initial alleged onset
date, through December 31, 2014, her date last insured. AR at
23 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 (internal
quotation omitted)). “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).
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 different choice had the
matter been before it de novo.'” Id.
(quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200).