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Madrid v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

November 18, 2013

DANIEL JOSEPH MADRID, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE AND NOTICE AND ORDER

JEFFREY L. CURETON, Magistrate Judge.

This case was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b). The Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge are as follows:

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Plaintiff Daniel Joseph Madrid ("Madrid") filed this action pursuant to Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of Title 42 of the United States Code for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for supplemental security income ("SSI'') under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA").[1] Madrid applied for SSI in June 2007, alleging that his disability began on October 1, 2007.[2] (Tr. 13, 86-92.)

After his application for benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration, Madrid requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 13, 48-52, 56-60.) The ALJ held a hearing on May 6, 2009, and issued an unfavorable decision on September 28, 2009. (Tr. 10-45.) On September 7, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Madrid's request for review, [3] leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner in his case. (Tr. 1-6.) Madrid subsequently filed this civil action seeking review of the ALJ's decision.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

SSI benefits are governed by Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., of the SSA and numerous regulatory provisions. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 416. To determine whether a claimant is disabled, and thus entitled to benefits, a five-step analysis is employed. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). First, the claimant must not be presently working at any substantial gainful activity. Id. § 416.920(b). "Substantial gainful activity" is defined as work activity "that involves doing significant physical or mental activities... for pay or profit." Id. § 416.972. Second, the claimant must have an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. Id. § 461.920(c); see also Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir. 1985), cited in Loza v. Apfel, 219 F.3d 378, 392 (5th Cir. 2000). Third, disability will be found if the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment contained in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing"), 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). Fourth, if disability cannot be found on the basis of the claimant's medical status alone, the impairment or impairments must prevent the claimant from returning to her past relevant work. Id. § 416.920(f). And fifth, the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any work, considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience. Id. § 416.920(g); Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197-98 (5th Cir. 1999).

Before moving from the third to the fourth step ofthe inquiry, the Commissioner assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to determine the most the claimant can still do notwithstanding her physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The claimant's RFC is used at both the fourth and fifth steps of the sequential analysis. Id . § 416.920(a)(4). At step four, the claimant's RFC is used to determine ifthe claimant can still do her past relevant work. Id . § 416.920(e). At step five, the claimant's RFC is used to determine whether the claimant can adjust to other types of work. Id. § 416.920(e). At steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to show that she is disabled. Crowley, 197 F.3d at 198. If the claimant satisfies this responsibility, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there is other gainful employment the claimant is capable of performing in spite of her existing impairments. Id.

A denial of disability benefits is reviewed only to determine whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995); Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a responsible mind might accept to support a conclusion. Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001). It is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision. Id. This Court may neither reweigh the evidence in the record nor substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, but will carefully scrutinize the record to determine ifthe evidence is present. Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000); Hollis, 837 F.2d at 1383.

III. ISSUES

In his brief, Madrid presents the following issues:

1. Whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standard at Step Two in evaluating Madrid's severe impairments;
2. Whether the ALJ properly considered all of Madrid's severe impairments at Step Two; and
3. Whether the ALJ's determination at Step Four that Madrid could perform his past relevant work is supported by substantial evidence.

(Plaintiff's Brief ("Pl.'s Br.") at 1.)[4]

IV. ALJ DECISION

In his September 28, 2009 decision, the ALJ found that Madrid had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2007, the alleged date of Madrid's onset of his disability. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ further found that Madrid suffered from the following severe impairments: "history of multiple trauma, back surgeries x2, right shoulder arthroscopy, and left knee arthroscopy, osteoarthritis, and depression." (Tr. 15.) Next, the ALJ held that none of Madrid's impairments, or combination of impairments, met or equaled the severity of any impairments in the Listing. (Tr. 15, 19.) As to Madrid's RFC, the ALJ stated:

The claimant has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR [§] 416.967(b) that does not require any overhead work with the left arm. He is able to occasionally climb, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks. (Tr. 19 (emphasis omitted).) Next, the ALJ found that Madrid was able to perform his past relevant work as a parking ...

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