United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JUDITH R. JAMES, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before me on Plaintiff’s Brief in Support of
Motion to Remand or Reverse [Doc. 20], filed on April 25,
2019. The Commissioner responded on July 22, 2019. [Doc. 24].
Plaintiff replied on August 5, 2019. [Doc. 25]. The Honorable
Judith C. Herrera, Senior United States District Judge,
referred the case to me to for proposed findings and a
recommended disposition. [Doc. 19]. Having meticulously
reviewed the entire record and being fully advised in the
premises, I find that Plaintiff fails to meet her burden as
the movant before this Court to show either that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJâ) did not apply the
correct legal standards or that his findings were not
supported by substantial evidence. Because Plaintiffâs
arguments fail to show either kind of error, I recommend that
the Motion be denied and the final decision of the
standard of review in a Social Security appeal is whether the
Commissioner’s final decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct legal standards were
applied. Maes v. Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th
Cir. 2008). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner’s findings and the correct legal standards
were applied, the Commissioner’s decision stands and
the plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Langley v.
Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004). Courts
must meticulously review the entire record but may neither
reweigh the evidence nor substitute their judgment for that
of the Commissioner. Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d
1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007).
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. The decision “is
not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence in the record or if there is a mere scintilla
of evidence supporting it.” Id. While a court
may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
examination of the record as a whole must include
“anything that may undercut or detract from the
[Commissioner]’s findings in order to determine if the
substantiality test has been met.” Grogan v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2005).
“The possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the] findings
from being supported by substantial evidence.” Lax
v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing
Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200 (10th Cir.
‘failure to apply the correct legal standard or to
provide this court with a sufficient basis to determine that
appropriate legal principles have been followed is grounds
for reversal.’” Jensen v. Barnhart, 436
F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Byron v.
Heckler, 742 F.2d 1232, 1235 (10th Cir. 1984)).
Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
order to qualify for disability benefits, a claimant 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),
1382c(a)(3)(A) (2012); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process
(“SEP”). Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2012).
At the first four steps of the evaluation process, the
claimant must show: (1) she is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; and (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) either meet or equal one
of the “Listings”of presumptively disabling
impairments; or (4) she is unable to perform her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261. If she cannot show that
her impairment meets or equals a Listing, but she proves that
she is unable to perform her “past relevant work,
” the burden of proof then shifts to the Commissioner,
at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform
other work in the national economy, considering her residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and
work experience. Grogan, 399 F.3d at 1261.
applied for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits on April 1, 2014, and for supplemental security
income on July 28, 2014. Tr. 35. She alleged a
disability-onset date of December 18, 2013. Id. Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. ALJ Randolph E. Schum held a hearing on June 22,
2016, in Phoenix, Arizona. Tr. 35, 171–89. Plaintiff
appeared via videoconference from Flagstaff, Arizona, with
her attorneys Nicole Franco and John Heard. Tr. 35. The ALJ
heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational
expert (“VE”), Marcos R. Molinar. Tr. 35,
issued his unfavorable decision on September 22, 2016. Tr.
46. He found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2018. Tr. 37. At step one, he found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
“residual (swelling) from adrenal surgery, obesity,
anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder
(‘PTSD’).” Id. The ALJ also found
that Plaintiff’s diabetes mellitus, gastroesophageal
reflux disease, constipation, “high blood pressure
and/or heart condition, ” and urinary urgency were not
severe. Tr. 38.
three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff’s
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 39–41. Because none of
Plaintiff’s impairments met or medically equaled a
Listing, the ALJ went on to assess Plaintiff’s RFC. Tr.
41–45. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had:
the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she can
stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and
sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; she can lift and
carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; she
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can occasionally stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; she should avoid concentrated
exposure to unprotected heights; and she should not work in a
setting with constant or regular contact with the general
public or more than infrequent handling of customer
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to return to her
past relevant work as a housekeeping cleaner (Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) number 323.687-014),
as it is generally performed. Tr. 45. Accordingly, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled, and he denied her
claims. Tr. 46. The Appeals Council denied review on January
5, 2018. Tr. 5–8. After an extension of time, Tr. 1,
Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on November 16,
2018, [Doc. 1].
makes three arguments, each without merit. She fails to show
any reversible error in the ALJ’s evaluation of her
reported symptoms or in the development of the record as to
the effects of hyperglycemia. She fails to show that any
reversible error in the ALJ’s classification of her
past relevant work (“PRW”), especially because
substantial evidence supports the classification. Finally,
her challenge to the ALJ’s evaluation of Dr.
O’Neil’s opinion is conclusory and fails to
support remand. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion should
be denied,  and the Commissioner’s decision
should be affirmed.
Plaintiff fails to show any reversible error in the
ALJ’s application of Social Security Ruling 16-3p in
evaluating her reported symptoms.
evaluating the symptoms reported by a claimant, the ALJ
utilizes a two-step process. Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 16-3p, 2016 SSR LEXIS 4, at *5–10.
First, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a
medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be
expected to produce the reported symptoms. Id. at
*5. Second, the ALJ evaluates the “intensity and
persistence” of the symptoms, such as pain, and
determines the extent to which the symptoms limit the
claimant’s ability to perform work-related activities.
Id. at *9. In considering the “intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects” of a
claimant’s symptoms, the ALJ examines “the entire
case record.” Id. at *9–10. For example,
the ALJ should consider the claimant’s:
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 ...