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Rodriguez v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 2, 2013

CYNTHIA GAIL RODRIGUEZ, 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 Cynthia Gail Rodriguez ("Rodriguez") 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 her claims for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). In December 2009 and January 2010, Rodriguez filed her applications, alleging that her disability began on October 31, 2009. (Tr. 63, 174-81.) Her applications for benefits were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 63, 123-30, 134-39.) The ALJ held a hearing on June 13, 2011 and issued a decision on July 28, 2011, finding that Rodriguez was not disabled because she could perform her past relevant work as a retail clerk, office assistant, collection clerk, and teacher's assistant. (Tr. 60-118.) On September 20, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Rodriguez's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Disability insurance is governed by Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 404 et seq., and SSI benefits are governed by Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., of the SSA. In addition, numerous regulatory provisions govern disability insurance and SSI benefits. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404 (disability insurance); 20 C.F.R. Pt. 416 (SSI). Although technically governed by different statutes and regulations, "[t]he law and regulations governing the determination of disability are the same for both disability insurance benefits and SSI." Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994).

The SSA defines a disability as a medically determinable physical or mental impairment lasting at least twelve months that prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A); McQueen v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 154 (5th Cir. 1999). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, and thus entitled to disability benefits, a five-step analysis is employed. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the claimant must not be presently working at any substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is defined as work activity involving the use of significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. Second, the claimant must have an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); 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 listed in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing"), 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 his past relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(e). 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. § 404.1520([); Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197-98 (5th Cir.1999). At steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to show he 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 his 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. Chafer, 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 if the evidence is present. Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000); Hollis, 837 F.2d at 1383.

III. ISSUES

In her brief, Rodriguez presents the following issues:

1. Whether the ALJ erred in finding that Rodriguez engaged in substantial gainful activity between October 2010 and June 2011;
2. Whether the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical evidence in the record;
3. Whether the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Rodriguez's ...

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