United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. RITTER U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Onibag
Figueroa's Motion to Reverse and Remand for a Rehearing
with Supportive Memorandum [Doc. 16], filed February 18,
2019. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73(b), the parties have consented to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct dispositive
proceedings in this matter, including entry of final
judgment. [Docs. 3, 6, 7]. Having studied the parties'
positions, the relevant law, and the relevant portions of the
Administrative Record (“ARâ), the Court grants
Mr. Figueroa's Motion and remands this case for further
administrative fact finding.
to precedent is ‘a foundation stone of the rule of
law.' … ‘[I]t promotes the evenhanded,
predictable, and consistent development of legal principles,
fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to
the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial
process.'” Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S.Ct.
2400, 2422 (2019) (quoting Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian
Community, 572 U.S. 782, 798, (2014); Payne v.
Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827 (1991)). The Court finds
itself bound by the principles of stare decisis here, insofar
as it has ruled upon one of the issues present in this case:
the issue of whether a certain number of jobs is sufficient
to illustrate “significant numbers” in the
national economy. Unfortunately for the Commissioner, the
Court is constrained by its own decisions and those of the
Tenth Circuit to find that the number of jobs identified by
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in this case
(56, 000) is not significant as a matter of law. Having so
concluded, the ALJ was required to perform the factoral
analysis set forth in Trimiar v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d
1326 (10th Cir. 1992). Because he did not, the Court reverses
and remands the decision of the ALJ in this case for further
administrative fact finding.
Figueroa filed an application with the Social Security
Administration for supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on April 14, 2014.
AR at 417-423. As grounds, Mr. Figueroa alleged the
disabling conditions of surgery, aneurism, anxiety and
“low back pain remarks.” AR at 141. Mr.
Figueroa alleged that his conditions became severe enough to
keep him from working on October 3, 2007. AR at 142.
The Administration denied Mr. Figueroa's claim initially
and upon reconsideration, and he requested a de novo
hearing before an ALJ. AR at 140-219.
Raul Pardo (“the ALJ”) held a hearing on August
3, 2016. AR at 67-102. On December 20, 2016, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Mr. Figueroa has
not been under a disability as defined in the Act from his
alleged onset date through the date of the decision.
AR at 180-191. In response, Mr. Figueroa filed a
Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order on January 4,
2017. AR at 326-328. After reviewing his case, the
Appeals Council granted Mr. Figueroa's request for review
on July 10, 2017, finding that he should have been granted a
supplemental hearing. AR at 200-202.
held a second hearing on October 6, 2017, at which Mr.
Figueroa and a Vocational Expert (“VE”)
testified. See AR at 104-139. After this hearing,
the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision on November 1,
2017. AR at 41-66. In response, Mr. Figueroa filed a
Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order on November 28,
2017. AR at 414-416. After reviewing his case, the
Appeals Council denied Mr. Figueroa's request for review
on July 26, 2018. AR at 1-3. As such, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir.
2003). This Court now has jurisdiction to review the decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 20 C.F.R. §
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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The
Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
One of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Mr. Figueroa has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from his amended onset date (December 18, 2012) through the
date of the decision. AR at 50. At Step Two, he
determined that Mr. Figueroa has the severe impairments of
“2007 aneurysm, depression, anxiety, borderline
intellectual functioning, substance abuse in remission, and
degenerative disc disease[.]” AR at 50. At
Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Figueroa's
impairments, individually and in combination, do not meet or
medically equal the regulatory “listings.”
AR at 50-51. Mr. Figueroa does not challenge these
findings on appeal. [See Doc. 16].
claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must
determine his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). “RFC
is an administrative assessment of the extent to which an
individual's medically determinable impairment(s),
including any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause
physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and
mental activities.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2.
“RFC is not the least an individual can do
despite his or her limitations or restrictions, but the
most.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1. In
this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Figueroa retains the
lift no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting
or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. The claimant
is able to stand and walk for approximately six hours in an
eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday. He can frequently reach and handle with the
bilateral upper extremities. The claimant is limited to
simple, routine tasks. He can have occasional contact with
co-workers and the public. I find that this is a limited
range of work contained in the medium exertional level as
defined by 20 CFR 404.1567, 20 CFR 416.967 and SSR 83-10.
AR at 51.
this RFC at Steps Four and Five, and relying on the testimony
of the VE, the ALJ determined that Mr. Figueroa cannot return
to his past relevant work as a heavy driver. AR at
57. However, the ALJ found that there were jobs that exist in
“significant numbers” in the national economy
that Mr. Figueroa can perform despite his limitations.
AR at 57-58. Specifically, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Figueroa retains the functional capacity to work as a
hospital cleaner (40, 000 jobs nationally) or wall cleaner
(16, 000 jobs ...