United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ISABEL C. MARIN, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Brief in
Support of Motion to Remand or Reverse for Payment of
Benefits, or in the Alternative, for Rehearing (Doc.
19), filed on March 17, 2019. 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. 6; 9;
11. Having considered the record, submissions of
counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds Plaintiff's
motion is not well-taken and will be denied.
Isabel C. Marin (Plaintiff) filed an application with the
Social Security Administration for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act on
May 19, 2014. Administrative Record (AR) at 157-58. Plaintiff
alleged a disability onset date of May 19, 2014. See
AR at 157.
Determination Services determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled both initially (AR at 61-73) and on reconsideration
(AR at 74-89). Plaintiff requested a hearing with an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the merits of her
application. AR at 102-03. Both Plaintiff and a vocational
expert (VE) testified during the de novo hearing.
See AR at 34-60. ALJ James Bentley issued an
unfavorable decision on February 15, 2017. AR at 12-33.
Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision/Order to the Appeals Council (AR at 155-56), which
the council denied on February 20, 2018 (AR at 1-6).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. 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 (PRW).
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” the claimant 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 Bentley found that Plaintiff
“has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since” her alleged onset date. AR at 17 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576). At Step Two, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff “has the following severe
impairments: asthma, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine with stenosis, depression, and mood disorder.” AR
at 18 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). ALJ Bentley also
noted the following nonsevere impairments that “do not
impose more than a minimal restriction on [her] ability to
perform basic work activities”: “degenerative
disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine,
osteoarthritis of the left shoulder, and urinary
frequency.” AR at 18.
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). The ALJ determined that
has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§] 404.1567(b) except that [she] may occasionally climb
ramps and stairs; is unable to climb ladders, ropes and
scaffolding; may occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch
and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat,
cold and wetness; must avoid even moderate exposure to dust,
fumes and poorly ventilated areas; can remember, understand
and carry out detailed, but not complex tasks; may perform no
overhead work; and requires a sit or stand option, defined as
a temporary change in position from sitting to standing and
vice versa, for purposes of comfort, and with no more than
one change in position every 20 minutes and without leaving
the work station so as not to diminish pace or production.
21. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of
performing her PRW as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). AR
at 28. Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from May 19, 2014, through the date of [the
ALJ's] decision.” AR at 29 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
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 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
[C]ourt would justifiably have made a different choice had
the matter been before it de novo.'” Id.
(quoting Zoltanski, 372 F.3d at 1200).
contends that the following issues require reversal: (1) the
ALJ erred in evaluating her subjective complaints of pain and
in determining she is capable of light work with limitations;
(2) the ALJ failed to provide specific findings of fact
regarding her PRW pursuant to SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386 (Jan.
1, 1982); and (3) the ALJ erred in finding that she could
return to her PRW given her RFC. Doc. 19 at 4-12.
The ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective
complaints and determination that she can perform light
exertional work with limitations is supported by substantial
first argues that ALJ Bentley made a number of errors at Step
Four in evaluating her subjective complaints of pain and in
determining that Plaintiff can perform limited light
exertional work. See Doc. 19 at 4-9.
Security Ruling 16-3p defines the two-step process an ALJ
must use to evaluate a claimant's symptoms. SSR 16-3p,
2017 WL 5180304 (Oct. 25, 2017). At the first step, the ALJ
“consider[s] whether there is an underlying medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that could
reasonably be expected to produce [the] individual's
symptoms, such as pain.” Id. at *3. At the
second step, after the ALJ has found such an impairment, the
ALJ “evaluate[s] the intensity and persistence of those
symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit
[the] individual's ability to perform work-related
activities . . . .” Id.
of the step two evaluation, the ALJ considers the record
evidence, the claimant's statements, medical and
non-medical source statements, and the non-exhaustive list of
factors in 20 C.F.R. § .1529(c)(3), which include:
1. Daily activities;
2. The location, duration, frequency, and intensity of pain
or other symptoms;
3. Factors that precipitate and aggravate the symptoms;
4. The type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any
medication an individual takes or has taken to alleviate pain
or other symptoms;
5. Treatment, other than medication, an individual receives
or has received for relief of ...