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Martinez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 20, 2018

CYNTHIA VERONICA MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          N. REID NEUREITER UNITED STATE MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that Plaintiff Cynthia Martinez is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). (AR[1] 26.) Ms. Martinez has asked this Court to review that decision. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and both parties have agreed to have this case decided by a U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. #14.)

         Standard of Review

         In Social Security appeals, the Court reviews the ALJ decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Pisciotta v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 1074, 1075 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Raymond v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 1269, 1271-72 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court “should, indeed must, exercise common sense” and “cannot insist on technical perfection.” Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court cannot reweigh the evidence or its credibility. Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007).

         Background

         At the second step of the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process for making determinations, [2] the ALJ found that Ms. Martinez “had the following severe impairments: lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease; right shoulder AC separation; diabetes mellitus; bipolar disorder; and anxiety disorder.” (AR 17.) The ALJ then determined, at step three, that through the current date last insured, Ms. Martinez “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments” in the regulations. (AR 18.) Because she concluded that Ms. Martinez did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the severity of the listed impairments, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Ms. Martinez had the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

. . . [Ms. Martinez] had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the following abilities and limitations: [Ms. Martinez] could have occasionally climbed ramps and stairs but was unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; [Ms. Martinez] was occasionally able to balance, stop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; [Ms. Martinez] needed to avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; [Ms. Martinez] was unable to reach over head with her right (dominant) upper extremity; [Ms. Martinez] could have no more than occasionally reached overhead with the left upper extremity; [Ms. Martinez] could have frequently reached in all other directions bilaterally, and was limited to frequent handling and fingering bilaterally; [Ms. Martinez] was limited to low stress work, which is defined as occasional decision making and occasional adapting to workplace change; [Ms. Martinez] was limited to occasional public contact; and [Ms. Martinez] was unable to perform work that would require travel to unfamiliar places.

(AR 20-21.) At step five, the ALJ determined that “[t]hrough the current date last insured, considering [Ms. Martinez'] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Ms. Martinez] could have performed . . . .” (AR 25.)

         As a result, the ALJ concluded Ms. Martinez was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (AR 26-27.)

         Ms. Martinez asserts two reversible errors: first, that the ALJ erred when she denied Ms. Martinez' motion to reopen her prior claim; and second, that the ALJ erred by concluding there were jobs in the national economy that Ms. Martinez could perform, and therefore she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Dkt. #15 at 4-8.)[3]

         I conclude the ALJ did not err in denying Ms. Martinez' motion to reopen her prior claim, but that she did err by concluding the Commissioner had met her burden of proving available jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Although the ALJ, in her RFC findings and analysis, referenced two limitations that the Vocational Expert testified would make Ms. Martinez unable to perform the three jobs identified by the Vocational Expert, the ALJ failed to make any specific factual findings in relation to these two limitations, necessitating the reversal and remand of the ALJ's decision for further development of the record with respect to these two limitations.

         Analysis

         1. Motion to Reopen

         Ms. Martinez first argues the ALJ erred when she denied counsel's request to reopen Ms. Martinez' prior claim for Social Security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Martinez's prior application for DIB was dated October 29, 2013. (AR 37.) As Ms. Martinez admits, she did not appeal that decision. (Dkt. #15 at 4; Dkt. #26 at 1.) Ms. Martinez filed the claim at dispute in this case on March 17, 2014 (AR ...


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