Dobry v. Social Security Administration
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS re 29 MOTION to Remand filed by Brian L. Dobry by Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough. Objections to R&R due by 8/15/2022. Add 3 days to the deadline if service is by mailing it to the person's last known address (or means described in Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(b)(2)(D) and (F)); if service is by electronic means, no additional days are added. (Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(d); Fed. R. Crim. P. 45(c).) (kfo)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
Case No. 2:21-cv-00521-JCH-SCY
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
Pro se plaintiff Brian D. seeks to remand his case back to the ALJ for reconsideration and
further proceedings. On May 18, 2022, the Honorable Judith Herrera referred this matter to me
for proposed findings and a recommended disposition under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Doc. 35.
Because Plaintiff does not point to any reversible error, I recommend that the Court DENY
Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. 29).2
Disability Determination Process
An individual is considered disabled if 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) (pertaining to disability insurance
In the interest of privacy, this PFRD uses only the first name and the initial of the last name of
the non-governmental party or parties in this case.
I reserve discussion of the background, procedural history, and medical records relevant to this
appeal for my analysis.
benefits); see also id. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (pertaining to supplemental security income disability
benefits for adult individuals). The Social Security Commissioner has adopted the familiar fivestep sequential evaluation process (“SEP”) to determine whether a person satisfies the statutory
criteria as follows:
At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.”3 If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, she is not disabled regardless of her medical condition.
At step two, the ALJ must determine the severity of the claimed physical
or mental impairment(s). If the claimant does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration
requirement, she is not disabled.
At step three, the ALJ must determine whether a claimant’s impairment(s)
meets or equals in severity one of the listings described in Appendix 1 of
the regulations and meets the duration requirement. If so, a claimant is
If, however, the claimant’s impairments do not meet or equal in severity
one of the listings described in Appendix 1 of the regulations, the ALJ
must determine at step four whether the claimant can perform her “past
relevant work.” Answering this question involves three phases. Winfrey v.
Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1023 (10th Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ considers all
of the relevant medical and other evidence and determines what is “the
most [the claimant] can still do despite [her physical and mental]
limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). This is called the
claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Id. §§ 404.1545(a)(3),
416.945(a)(3). Second, the ALJ determines the physical and mental
demands of the claimant’s past work. Third, the ALJ determines whether,
given the claimant’s RFC, the claimant is capable of meeting those
demands. A claimant who is capable of returning to past relevant work is
If the claimant does not have the RFC to perform her past relevant work,
the Commissioner, at step five, must show that the claimant is able to
“Substantial work activity is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental
activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(a), 416.972(a). The claimant’s “[w]ork may be substantial
even if it is done on a part-time basis or if [she] doe[es] less, get[s] paid less, or ha[s] less
responsibility than when [she] worked before.” Id. “Gainful work activity is work activity that
[the claimant] do[es] for pay or profit.” Id. §§ 404.1572(b), 416.972(b).
perform other work in the national economy, considering the claimant’s
RFC, age, education, and work experience. If the Commissioner is unable
to make that showing, the claimant is deemed disabled. If, however, the
Commissioner is able to make the required showing, the claimant is
deemed not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (disability insurance benefits); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)
(supplemental security income disability benefits); Fischer-Ross v. Barnhart, 431 F.3d 729, 731
(10th Cir. 2005); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005).
The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a disability in the first four steps of this
analysis. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The burden shifts to the Commissioner
at step five to show that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy. Id.
A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is
conclusive and terminates the analysis. Casias v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 933 F.2d 799,
801 (10th Cir. 1991).
Standard of Review
This Court must affirm the Commissioner’s denial of social security benefits unless
(1) the decision is not supported by “substantial evidence” or (2) the ALJ did not apply the
proper legal standards in reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hamlin v. Barnhart, 365
F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2004); Langley v. Barnhart, 373 F.3d 1116, 1118 (10th Cir. 2004);
Casias, 933 F.2d at 800-01. In making these determinations, the Court “neither reweigh[s] the
evidence nor substitute[s] [its] judgment for that of the agency.’” Bowman v. Astrue, 511 F.3d
1270, 1272 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hatever the meaning of
‘substantial’ in other contexts, the threshold for such evidentiary sufficiency is not high.” Biestek
v. Berryhill, 139 S. Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (citations omitted). “Substantial evidence . . . is ‘more
than a mere scintilla.’” Id. (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “It
means—and means only—such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate
to support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
A decision “is not based on substantial evidence if it is overwhelmed by other evidence in
the record,” Langley, 373 F.3d at 1118 (internal quotation marks omitted), or “constitutes mere
conclusion,” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). The 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) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Therefore, although an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of
evidence, “[t]he record must demonstrate that the ALJ considered all of the evidence” and “a
minimal level of articulation of the ALJ’s assessment of the evidence is required in cases in
which considerable evidence is presented to counter the agency’s position.” Clifton v. Chater, 79
F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). But where the reviewing
court “can follow the adjudicator’s reasoning” in conducting its review, “and can determine that
correct legal standards have been applied, merely technical omissions in the ALJ’s reasoning do
not dictate reversal.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The court
“should, indeed must, exercise common sense.” Id. “The more comprehensive the ALJ’s
explanation, the easier [the] task; but [the court] cannot insist on technical perfection.” Id.
Plaintiff seeks remand without specifying any legal error in the ALJ’s decision. Doc. 29
at 1 (“Plaintiff grudgingly submits this motion to remand as since that time of the last ALJ
decision, plaintiff has had additional and worsening conditions of the endocrine systems, poor
vision and worsening circulatory conditions.”). The Court should find that this failure to identify
an error is fatal to Plaintiff’s claim. See United States v. Rodriguez-Aguirre, 108 F.3d 1228, 127
n.8 (10th Cir. 1997) (“[I]t is the appellant’s responsibility to tie the salient facts, supported by
specific record citation, to [his] legal contentions.” (citation omitted)); Gilbert v. Astrue, 231 F.
App’x 778, 782, 785 & n.5 (10th Cir. 2007) (applying this rule in the Social Security context);
Mays v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 569, 576 (10th Cir. 2014) (to meet his burden in court, the claimant
must not only “point to evidence that he claims the ALJ failed to discuss,” but also “say why it
was significantly probative”; the court will not do so for him).
I have meticulously reviewed the record pursuant to Flaherty v. Astrue, 515 F.3d 1067,
1070 (10th Cir. 2007) and recommend the Court find that the ALJ’s decision is supported by
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE PARTIES ARE FURTHER NOTIFIED THAT WITHIN 14 DAYS OF SERVICE of a
copy of these Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition they may file written
objections with the Clerk of the District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party
must file any objections with the Clerk of the District Court within the fourteen-day period
if that party wants to have appellate review of the proposed findings and recommended
disposition. If no objections are filed, no appellate review will be allowed.
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