United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION TO REVERSE OR REMAND
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse or Remand the Administrative Decision [Doc. 17] and
the Memorandum in Support [Doc. 18] (collectively,
“Motion”), filed on April 30, 2019. The
Commissioner responded on July 26, 2019. [Doc. 23].
replied on August 20, 2019. [Doc. 24]. The parties have
consented to my entering final judgment in this case. [Doc.
21]. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and being
fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to apply
the correct legal standard in evaluating the treating opinion
of Dr. Montoya. The Motion will be granted, and the case will
be remanded for further proceedings. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (2018) (sentence four).
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 re-weigh 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) (quotation marks omitted).
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) (2018); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
considering a disability application, the Commissioner is
required to use a five-step sequential evaluation process.
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, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on October 27,
2014. Tr. 12. She alleged a disability-onset date of July 17,
2013. Id. Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. ALJ Raul C. Pardo held a
hearing on August 1, 2017, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tr.
12, 34. Plaintiff appeared in person at the hearing with her
attorney. Id. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff
and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), Sandra
Trost, who testified via telephone. Tr. 12, 34-54.
issued his unfavorable decision on January 29, 2018. Tr. 26.
He found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2018. Tr. 14. 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:
“status-post left ankle surgery; depression; anxiety;
migraines; pain in hands, back, and feet.” Id.
The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's carpal tunnel
syndrome was not severe. Tr. 15.
three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled a Listing. Tr. 15-17. Because none of Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled a Listing, the ALJ went
on to assess Plaintiff's RFC.
17-24. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had:
the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 [C.F.R
§§] 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). In addition, she is
never be [sic] able to operate foot controls with her left
foot. She has frequent use of bilateral hands for reaching
and handling. The claimant can climb ramps and stairs
occasionally and can never climb ladder[s], scaffolds, and
ropes. She can stoop frequently. She is limited to performing
simple, routine tasks and can have only occasional contact
with the public. [Plaintiff]'s time off task can be
accommodated by normal breaks.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform past
relevant work as a gate guard, corrections officer, or
warehouse worker. Tr. 24. Accordingly, the ALJ went on to
consider Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work
experience, and the testimony of the VE at step five. Tr.
25-26. He found that Plaintiff could perform work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy and,
therefore, was not disabled. Id. The ...