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Martinez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 24, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner's decision denying claimant Ambrose D. Martinez's application for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


         This appeal is based upon the administrative record and the parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and determines whether it contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is “overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.” Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence requires “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Reversal may also be appropriate if the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal standard or fails to demonstrate that the correct legal standards have been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1019.


         Mr. Martinez was born in 1986 and was 27 years old at the alleged disability onset date. R. 35. He graduated from eighth grade but did not graduate from high school or obtain his GED. R. 36. Though he held a part-time job in the past, Mr. Martinez has never worked full-time. R. 43. He lives in Pueblo, Colorado with his girlfriend and his girlfriend's grandchild. R. 49. Mr. Martinez reports that while he occasionally does the dishes and takes out the trash, his girlfriend does the majority of the household chores and childcare. R. 43-45.

         Mr. Martinez has a history of alcohol abuse. He started drinking at the age of 12, and since that time he has received three DUIs and has undergone court-ordered alcohol treatment. R. 39. In addition to his drinking problem, he also has social anxiety, depression, and a learning disability. R. 18. Mr. Martinez has no reported or alleged physical disabilities.

         A. Procedural History.

         Mr. Martinez filed a claim for supplemental security income on June 18, 2013. R. 15. After Mr. Martinez failed to appear at his December 1, 2014 hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”), Kathryn D. Burgchardt, dismissed his claim. R. 78. The Appeals Council remanded his case back to the ALJ for a determination of whether Mr. Martinez had good cause for missing the hearing. R. 84-85. At the resulting November 17, 2015 hearing the ALJ found that Mr. Martinez did not have good cause but allowed his claim to proceed nonetheless. R. 29- 35. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 28, 2016. R. 10. Mr. Martinez appealed this decision, but the Appeals Council denied Mr. Martinez's Request for Review on February 23, 2017. R. 1-3. Mr. Martinez timely sought review by this Court. ECF No. 1.

         B. The ALJ's Decision.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence according to the SSA's standard five-step process. R. 13-21. First, the ALJ found that Mr. Martinez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Martinez's learning disability, anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse were severe when viewed in combination. Id. However, the ALJ found that the following alleged conditions did not represent medically determinable impairments or were nonsevere: hypertension, mixed hyperlipidemia, and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Martinez did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listing. R. 16. Also during this step, the ALJ assessed Mr. Martinez's mental impairments in accordance with the psychiatric-review technique required by Social Security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a. This technique required the ALJ to assess the degree to which Mr. Martinez's mental impairments limit his functioning in four areas: (1) daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration, persistence, and pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. Id. The ALJ found that Mr. Martinez had a mild restriction in activities of daily living and moderate difficulties in both social functioning and concentration, persistence, and pace, but that Mr. Martinez has had no episodes of decompensation of note. R. 16.

         The ALJ then found that Mr. Martinez retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following limitations: the work must be unskilled; the work must have a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) level of 2 or less; the work cannot be in close proximity to co-workers, supervisors, as a member of a team, and cannot have prolonged contact with the public; and the work must involve minimal to no reading, writing, or math. R. 17.

         At step four, the ALJ noted that Mr. Martinez has no past relevant work. R. 19. At step five, the ALJ determined that there are jobs in the national economy that Mr. Martinez is able to perform, such as a small products assembler, a housekeeper, or a commercial cleaner. ...

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