United States District Court, D. New Mexico
RONNIE S. ESTRADA, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,  Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Ronnie S.
Estrada’s Brief in Support of Motion to Remand or
Reverse (Doc. 15), which was fully briefed on March 3, 2019.
See Docs. 19, 20. The parties consented to my
entering final judgment in this case. Docs. 3, 5, 6. Having
meticulously reviewed the entire record and being fully
advised in the premises, I find that the Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) applied the correct legal standards and his
decision is supported by substantial evidence. I therefore
DENY Mr. Estrada’s motion and AFFIRM the
Standard of Review
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).
“The 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) (internal quotation marks and
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118. A 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 the 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
ALJ’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)
(quoting Zoltanski v. F.A.A., 372 F.3d 1195, 1200
(10th Cir. 2004)).
Applicable Law and Sequential Evaluation Process
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987). At the first four steps of the evaluation
process, the claimant must show: (1) the claimant is not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity”; (2)
the claimant 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) the impairment(s) either meet or equal one
of the Listings of presumptively disabling impairments;
or (4) the claimant is unable to perform his or her
“past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i–iv); Grogan, 399 F.3d at
1260–61. If the claimant cannot show that his or her
impairment meets or equals a Listing but proves that he or
she is unable to perform his or her “past relevant
work, ” the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner,
at step five, to show that the claimant is able to perform
other work in the national economy, considering the
claimant’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Background and Procedural History
Estrada was born in 1960, has a diploma in construction
drafting, and lives with his mother in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. AR 33, 61, 170. Mr. Estrada has worked delivering auto
parts (sales route driver), as a vault puller (coin box
collector), an airport maintenance laborer and a construction
worker. AR 33–36, 53–54, 170, 176, 180–86.
Mr. Estrada filed an application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) on October 15, 2014,
alleging disability since September 1, 2014, due to bulging
discs in his back and spinal arthritis. AR 146–47, 169.
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
his claim initially and on reconsideration. AR 60–82.
Mr. Estrada requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 90. On
March 1, 2017, ALJ James Linehan held a hearing. AR
29–59. ALJ Linehan issued his unfavorable decision on
May 18, 2017. AR 12–28.
found that Mr. Estrada met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020. AR 17. At
step one, the ALJ found that Mr. Estrada had not engaged in
substantial, gainful activity since September 1, 2014, his
alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found
that Mr. Estrada’s degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine with scoliosis, stenosis, and spondylosis was a
severe impairment. AR 18. At step three, the ALJ found that
none of Mr. Estrada’s impairments, alone or in
combination, met or medically equaled a Listing. AR 18.
Because the ALJ found that none of the impairments met a
Listing, the ALJ assessed Mr. Estrada’s RFC. AR
18–21. The ALJ found Mr. Estrada had the RFC to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except
the claimant can lift twenty pounds occasionally and lift and
carry ten pounds frequently. The claimant can stand and walk
alternatively for a total of six hours out of eight hours per
day with sitting occurring intermittently throughout the day.
The claimant can reach, push and pull with upper extremities
up to six hours per eight-hour day. The claimant can use
hands for grasping, holding and turning objects up to six
hours per eight-hour day. The claimant can climb, stoop,
kneel, crouch, crawl and balance up to six hours per
four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Estrada was capable of
performing his past relevant work as a sales route driver, as
it was actually performed, and as a coin box collector, as it
was actually and generally performed. AR 21–22.
Alternatively, the ALJ fund that Mr. Estrada had
“acquired work skills from past relevant work that are
transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, ”
including office helper, booth cashier, and ticket taker. AR
22–23. The ALJ thus found Mr. Estrada not disabled at
step four and alternatively at step five. AR 23–24.
Estrada requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ’s unfavorable decision. AR 143–45. On April
24, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the request for review.
AR 1–5. Mr. Estrada timely filed his appeal to this
Court on June 22, 2018. Doc. 1.
Mr. Estrada’s Claims
Estrada raises two main arguments and several sub-arguments
for reversing and remanding this case. First, Mr. Estrada
claims that the ALJ failed to comply with Social Security
Ruling (“SSR”) 82-62 in finding that Mr. Estrada
has the capacity to perform his past relevant work at step
four. Doc. 15 at 1, 4. In arguing this claim, Mr. Estrada
further claims that the ALJ made the following errors: (a)
failed to comply with SSR 16-3p when determining Mr.
Estrada’s RFC, id. at 4–9; (b) failed to
include non-exertional impairments in the RFC, id.
at 9; (c) failed to develop the record regarding his shoulder
pain, id. at 9–10; (d) failed to obtain a
detailed description of the physical and mental demands of
Mr. Estrada’s past relevant work, id. at
10–11; (e) failed to provide specific findings that the
RFC would permit a return to his past relevant work,
id.; and (f) the alternative finding at step five
that Mr. Estrada was not disabled pursuant to the
Medical-Vocational Rules was in error once he turned 55,
id. at 12–13. Second, Mr. Estrada claims that
the ALJ failed to comply with the treating physician rule in
SSR 96-2p when giving great weight to Mr. Estrada’s
treating physician’s medical opinion. Doc. 15 at 1,
13–15. Mr. Estrada’s claims are without merit.
The ALJ Properly Evaluated Mr. Estrada’s Claim at
four of the sequential evaluation process is comprised of
three phases. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023
(10th Cir. 1996).
In the first phase, the ALJ must evaluate a claimant’s
physical and mental [RFC], and in the second phase, he [or
she] must determine the physical and mental demands of the
claimant’s past relevant work. In the final phase, the
ALJ determines whether the claimant has the ability to meet
the job demands found in phase two despite the mental and/or
physical limitations found in phase one. At each of these
phases, the ALJ must make specific findings.
Id. (citations omitted). Mr. Estrada contends that
the ALJ committed reversible error at each phase of step
The ALJ Properly Evaluated Mr. Estrada’s RFC in the
Evaluation of Symptoms Under SSR 16-3p
first phase of the step four analysis, the ALJ must evaluate
a claimant’s physical and mental RFC. Winfrey,
92 F.3d at 1023. Mr. Estrada contends that the ALJ erred in
the first phase by failing to comply with SSR 16-3p. Doc. 15
at 8. Mr. Estrada argues that the ALJ failed to consider the
duration, frequency and intensity of his back pain, and the
effect his radicular symptoms have on his ability to perform
work-related activities. Id.
disability determination must include consideration of all of
the individual’s symptoms, including pain. SSR 16-3p,
2017 WL 5180304, at *2. The Commissioner will not find an
individual is disabled based on alleged symptoms alone.
Id. at *4. When evaluating a disability
claimant’s complaints of disabling pain, an ALJ must
consider and determine:
(1) whether the claimant established a pain-producing
impairment by objective medical evidence; (2) if so, whether
the impairment is reasonably expected to produce some pain of
the sort alleged (what we term a “loose nexus”);
and (3) if so, whether, considering all the evidence, both
objective and subjective, the claimant’s pain was in
Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166-67
(10th Cir. 2012) (citing Luna v. Bowen, 834 F.2d
161, 163–64 (10th Cir. 1987)). The ALJ found that Mr.
Estrada had a medically determinable impairment and that that
impairment could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms. AR 19. Mr. Estrada does not challenge these
findings. The ALJ further found that Mr. Estrada’s
“statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in
the record for the reasons explained in this decision.”
Id. Mr. Estrada contests this finding, arguing that
the ALJ failed to consider certain factors, that the medical
evidence supports his complaints of back and leg pain, and
that “the ALJ’s cursory statement regarding the
Plaintiff’s credibility does not provide specific
reasons as required by SSR 16-3p.” Doc. 15 at 8.
considering the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of a claimant’s symptoms, the ALJ must examine the
entire case record and determine whether the claimant’s
statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of these symptoms are consistent with the medical
signs and laboratory findings in the record. SSR 16-3p, 2017
WL 5180304, at *4, *5. In examining ...