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Elizondo v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

January 14, 2014

MARY ANN SANCHEZ ELIZONDO,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANDREW W. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court are: Plaintiff Mary Ann Sanchez Elizondo's Complaint seeking reversal of the final decision of the Social Security Administration (Dkt. # 1); Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin's Answer (Dkt. No. 10); Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Claim (Dkt. # 16); and Defendant's Brief in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Dkt. # 18). Also before the Court is the Social Security record filed in this case (Cited as "Tr.").

I. GENERAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Mary Ann Sanchez Elizondo ("Elizondo") filed her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 23, 2010. Tr. at 15. Elizondo also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on February 23, 2010. Id. In both applications, Elizondo alleged disability beginning on December 1, 2007. Id. Elizondo's claims were denied initially on July 6, 2010, and upon reconsideration on October 25, 2010. Tr. at 93-98, 112. After Elizondo filed a written request for a hearing, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 21, 2011. Tr. at 15. A second hearing was held before an ALJ on August 26, 2011. Id. On November 4, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Elizondo was not disabled. After the Appeals Council declined to review Elizondo's case on October 11, 2012, the ALJ's decision became the final administrative decision of the Commissioner for purposes of the Court's review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Elizondo filed the instant lawsuit on January 30, 2013, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court reverse and remand the ALJ's decision for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, for further administrative proceedings. Dkt. No. 16 at 12.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine if a claimant is disabled and unable to engage in "substantial gainful activity" the Social Security Commissioner employs a five-step analysis:

1. a claimant who is working, engaging in a substantial gainful activity, will not be found to be disabled regardless of the medical findings;
2. a claimant will not be found to be disabled unless he has a "severe impairment";
3. a claimant whose impairment meets or is equivalent to an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations will be considered disabled without the need to consider vocational factors;
4. a claimant who is capable of performing work that he has done in the past must be found "not disabled"; and
5. if the claimant is unable to perform his previous work as a result of his impairment, then factors such as his age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine whether he can do other work.

Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. A finding of no disability at any step is conclusive and terminates the analysis. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1120 (1995). The claimant has the burden of proof for the first four steps; at step five, the burden initially shifts to the Commissioner to identify other work the applicant is capable of performing. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990). Then, if the Commissioner "fulfills [his] burden of pointing out potential alternative employment, the burden... shifts back to the claimant to prove that he is unable to perform the alternate work." Id. (citation omitted).

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether the Commissioner correctly applied the relevant legal standards. Kinash v. Callahan, 129 F.3d 736, 738 (5th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence constitutes more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance-in other words, "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 172 (5th Cir. 1995).

The Court considers four elements of proof when determining whether there is substantial evidence of a disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history. Id. at 174. However, the Court cannot reconsider the evidence, but may only scrutinize the record to determine whether it contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). Thus, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence in the record, nor try the issues de novo, nor substitute [its] judgment for the [Commisioner's], even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision." Harrell v. Brown, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam). If the Court finds substantial ...


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