United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JAMES A.J. MAYFIELD, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
KHALSA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff James Anthony Joseph
Mayfield's (“Mr. Mayfield”) pro se letter to
the Court (Doc. 19), filed July 11, 2019, in which he moves
the Court to reverse and remand Defendant the Commissioner of
Social Security's decision terminating his disability
insurance and supplemental security income benefits under 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(f) and 1382c(a)(4)(A). The
Commissioner filed a response in opposition to Mr.
Mayfield's motion on September 13, 2019. (Doc. 20.) The
deadline for Mr. Mayfield to file a reply in support of his
motion expired on September 27, 2019, (Doc. 18); and, to
date, Mr. Mayfield has neither filed a reply nor requested an
extension of time in which to do so. The Court therefore
concludes that briefing on Mr. Mayfield's motion is
complete. Having meticulously reviewed the entire record and
the applicable law, being otherwise fully advised, and for
the reasons set forth below, the Court FINDS that Mr.
Mayfield's motion is well taken and should be GRANTED.
Standard of Review
standard that courts apply in reviewing the
Commissioner's decisions is the same whether a decision
initially denies benefits or subsequently terminates them.
Hayden v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 986, 988 (10th Cir.
2004); Glenn v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 983, 984 (10th Cir.
1994). Specifically, this Court must affirm the
Commissioner's final decision unless: (1)
“substantial evidence” does not support the
decision; or, (2) the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) did not apply the correct legal standards
in reaching it. Hayden, 374 F.3d at 988; Maes v.
Astrue, 522 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th Cir. 2008); Hamlin
v. Barnhart, 365 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004);
Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir.
2004). The Court must meticulously review the entire record
but may “neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute
[its] judgment for that of the agency.'” Bowman
v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008);
Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir.
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. Although the Court may not
re-weigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, its
consideration of the record must include “anything that
may undercut or detract from the [agency]'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 agency's] findings from being supported by
substantial evidence.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d
1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).
agency decision must “provide this court with a
sufficient basis to determine that appropriate legal
principles have been followed.” Jensen v.
Barnhart, 436 F.3d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005). Thus,
although an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of
evidence, “the record must demonstrate that the ALJ
considered all of the evidence, ” and “the ALJ .
. . must discuss the uncontroverted evidence he chooses not
to rely upon, as well as significantly probative evidence he
rejects.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007,
1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996).
Sequential Evaluation Process for Termination of Benefits
case involves the Commissioner's termination of Mr.
Mayfield's benefits under the Social Security Act
(“SSA”). The Commissioner may terminate the
benefits of an individual previously found to be disabled
under the SSA if the physical or mental impairments which
formed the basis of the award of benefits have ceased, do not
exist, or are no longer disabling. 42 U.S.C. §§
423(f), 1382c(a)(4). To determine whether termination of
benefits is appropriate, the Commissioner has adopted a
sequential evaluation process of eight steps for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and seven steps for
supplemental security income (“SSI”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1594(f)(1)-(8), 416.994(b)(5)(i)-(vii).
Whether a claimant is engaging in substantial gainful
activity is the first step to be considered in
determining the claimant's continued eligibility for DIB
but is not considered for SSI; otherwise the steps are the
same for both types of benefits. Compare 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(f)(1)-(8) (DIB-eight steps), with 20 C.F.R. §
416.994(b)(5)(i-vii) (SSI-seven steps).
seven shared steps of the sequential evaluation process for
termination of benefits are as follows:
1) Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of
impairments which meets or equals the severity of [an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
2) If not, has there been medical improvement?
3) If there has been medical improvement, does the
improvement relate to the claimant's ability to do work,
i.e., has there been an increase in the claimant's
[residual functional capacity (“RFC”)] based on
the impairment(s) present on the date of the most recent
favorable medical determination?
4) If there has been no medical improvement, or if such
improvement is not related to claimant's ability to work,
do any of the exceptions to medical improvement apply? See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(d)-(e), 416.994(b)(3)-(4)
(list[ing] the applicable exceptions).
5) If there is medical improvement related to the
claimant's ability to work, are the claimant's
current impairments severe when considered in
6) If the claimant's impairments are severe, does the
claimant retain the ability to perform his or her past
7) If the claimant's impairments are severe and the
claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, does
the claimant nevertheless possess the RFC to perform other
Maestas v. Berryhill, No. CV 17-679 CG, 2018 WL
3037390, at *2-3 (D.N.M. June 19, 2018); Ortega v.
Berryhill, No. 2:16-CV-01074-LF, 2018 WL 1972677, at *2
(D.N.M. Apr. 26, 2018). The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof in a termination-of-benefits review. Hayden,
374 F.3d at 991; Glenn, 21 F.3d at 987.
Background and Procedural History
well-documented and undisputed that Mr. Mayfield, who is now
thirty-nine, has had chronic epilepsy since childhood.
(See, e.g., AR 415-16.) Mr. Mayfield has his GED and
as a young adult held two jobs, one at Wal-Mart and another
at a cell phone company; at both jobs, however, flickering
lights triggered seizures and he was fired. (AR 39, 58, 324.)
On April 30, 2008, the Commissioner found Mr. Mayfield to be
disabled and entitled to DIB and SSI beginning on August 1,
2004. (AR 55-60.) Specifically, the Commissioner found that:
(1) Mr. Mayfield's date last insured was March 1, 2006;
(2) he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
his alleged onset date; (3) he had the severe impairments of
“seizure disorder grand mal type, depression and low
average intelligence”; (4) he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5) he had the RFC to perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels but with the
non-exertional limitations of:
(a) “avoidance of exposure to machinery, heights and
(b) “avoidance of fluorescent lighting”;
(c) “avoidance of concentrated exposure to
(d) “inability to read and understand basic
(e) “moderate impairment in interacting with
supervisors and perform[ing] work on a persistent basis
during a 40-hour work-week”; and,
considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there were “no jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy” that he could perform.
November 30, 2015, however, the Commissioner determined that
Mr. Mayfield is no longer disabled and thus no longer
entitled to DIB or SSI. (AR 45-46.) The Commissioner affirmed
his decision to terminate Mr. Mayfield's benefits on
reconsideration on March 23, 2016, and again on
reconsideration after a hearing before a state agency
disability hearing officer on June 1, 2016. (AR 47-50.) On
June 27, 2016, Mr. Mayfield requested a hearing before an
ALJ. (AR 95-97.) ALJ James Burke held an initial hearing on
October 18, 2016, at which Mr. Mayfield appeared pro
se and requested additional time to obtain counsel. (AR
37-39.) The ALJ therefore continued the hearing to June 15,
2017, on which date attorney Michelle Baca appeared on Mr.
Mayfield's behalf. (AR 25-34, 130-34.) At the hearing, the
ALJ heard Ms. Baca's arguments and Mr. Mayfield's
testimony. (Id.) Afterward, without
objection from Ms. Baca or Mr. Mayfield, the ALJ received and
considered records from psychologist Mary S. Loescher, Ph.D.,
and submitted interrogatories to and received written answers
from impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Thomas A.
Greiner. (AR 11, 309-17, 422-28.)
January 17, 2018, ALJ Burke issued his decision finding that
Mr. Mayfield's disability ended on November 1, 2015 and
that he has not become disabled again since that date. (AR
17.) In particular, the ALJ found that: (1) as of April 30,
2008, Mr. Mayfield had the medically determinable impairment
of seizure disorder; (2) as of November 1, 2015, Mr. Mayfield
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity; (3) Mr.
Mayfield did not develop any additional impairments between
April 30, 2008 and November 1, 2015; (4) since November 1,
2015, Mr. Mayfield has not had an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1; (5) as of November 1, 2015, Mr. Mayfield
experienced medical improvement; and, (6) since November 1,
2015, Mr. Mayfield's seizure disorder “has not
caused more than a minimal impact on [his] ability to perform
basic work activities, ” and therefore, he “no
longer has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments.” (AR 11-17.)
support of these findings the ALJ observed that, according to
Mr. Mayfield's medical records and by his own report, he
has not had a seizure in several years, because his seizures
are controlled by Keppra. (AR 15-17.) The ALJ accorded
“little weight” to the opinion of medical
consultant Edward S. Bocian, M.D., that Mr. Mayfield should
avoid concentrated exposure to hazards due to his seizure
history, finding that the opinion was “not consistent
with the evidence as a whole.” (AR 16.) The ALJ also
accorded “little weight” to the opinions of Dr.
Loescher, a consultative examiner. (Id.) Based on
her clinical interview and mental status examination of Mr.
Mayfield and his results on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence
Scale IV (“WAIS-IV”), Dr. Loescher opined that
Mr. Mayfield is mildly to moderately restricted in his
ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex
instructions and to make judgments on complex work-related
decisions, and that it would “possibly be anxiety
producing for [Mr. Mayfield] to adapt to a work
setting.”(AR 422, 428.) The ALJ rejected Dr.
Loescher's opinions on the basis that she pointed to no
“medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic
techniques” to support them. (AR 16.)
Mayfield requested review by the Appeals Council, which was
denied on December 17, 2018. (AR 1-7.) He then appealed to
this Court. (Doc. 1.) Mr. Mayfield attached printouts from
various websites regarding epilepsy to his July 11, 2019
letter to the Court. (Doc. 19 at 2-29.) He also attached
documentation regarding Keppra, generically known as
levetiracetam. (Id. at 31-42.) Finally, he attached
a May 22, 2019 letter from his treating physician, Sue Katz,
M.D., who wrote in pertinent part:
[Mr. Mayfield] has requested a letter to explain his
diagnosis of epilepsy. He has [a] history of uncontrolled
gran[d] mal seizures prior to treatment with high dose
levetiracetam. He reports his last gran[d] mal seizure as
2009. He continues with frequent petit mal seizures. He
estimates these as almost daily, several in a week. He also