United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Brownsville Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
Ignacio Torteya, III United States Magistrate Judge
Court is in receipt of Fernando Rivera, Jr.'s Complaint
seeking review of the Social Security Administration
Commissioner's final decision denying his application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. Dkt. No. 1. Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill,
(hereinafter, the “Commissioner”) asks the Court
to affirm her decision. Dkt. No. 16 at 10. It is recommended
that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision and
deny Rivera's claims.
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
and § 1383(c)(3).
19, 2012, Rivera protectively filed an application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
alleging an onset disability date of April 26, 2012. TR at
There, Rivera listed a number of ailments pertaining to
limited use, function, and feeling of his back, wrists, legs,
and arms. See TR at 134. In his functionality
report, Rivera states, among other things, that these
ailments cause him severe pain that affects his ability to
perform daily tasks and movements such as bending, lifting,
and walking. TR at 151. Rivera also claims that these
ailments affect his memory and concentration. Id.
Social Security Administration denied his claim initially on
July 24, 2012, and upon reconsideration on November 14, 2012.
TR at 53, 59. Rivera filed a request for a hearing, and
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Thomas Norman
conducted an administrative hearing on December 5, 2013. TR
at 27. Rivera was represented at the hearing by a
non-attorney representative, Delmar Fankhauser. On April 21,
2014, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that Rivera was not
disabled under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social
Security Act. TR at 20. Rivera appealed to the Appeals
Council (hereinafter, the “Council”), which
denied Rivera's request for review on June 15, 2015. TR
at 1, 5. Rivera timely filed this Complaint challenging the
Commissioner's final decision on August 19, 2015. Dkt.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's final decision
to deny benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to
two inquiries: (1) whether the proper legal standards were
used in evaluating the evidence; and (2) whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the
decision that the claimant is not disabled as defined by the
Act. Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir.
1999). Evidence is considered substantial if it is relevant
and sufficient enough for a reasonable mind to accept it as
adequate to support a conclusion. Legget v. Chater,
67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). It is more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. A
no-substantial-evidence finding is appropriate only where no
credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to
support the decision. Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698,
704 (5th Cir. 2001). If the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole,
the findings are conclusive and must be affirmed.
Brown, 192 F.3d at 496.
conflicts are for the Commissioner, not the courts, to
resolve. The Court “may not reweigh the evidence in the
record, nor try the issues de novo, nor substitute [its] own
judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if the evidence
preponderates against the [Commissioner's]
decision.” Brown, 192 F.3d at 496 (alternation
in original) (quoting Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d
340, 343). The Court's task is deferential judicial
review of the Commissioner's disability decision, but not
so deferential as to result in meaningless review.
Id. Four elements of proof are weighed in
determining if substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's determination: (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 experience. Martinez v. Chater,
64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995).
claimant is not entitled to benefits under Titles II and XVI
unless she is “disabled” as defined by the Act.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Heckler v. Campell,
461 U.S. 458, 459-61 (1983). The law and regulations
governing benefits under both Titles are the same.
Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir.
1994). The Act defines “disability”
as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). A sequential five-step approach is used to
determine whether the claimant is disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), § 416.920(a)(4).
steps one through four, the claimant bears the burden of
proving that: (1) they have not engaged in substantial
gainful activity during the relevant period; (2) they have a
severe impairment; (3) the impairment is either a listed
impairment in the appendix to the regulations, or equivalent
to a listed impairment; and, (4) if they do not have an
impairment qualifying as a listed impairment or its
equivalent, the impairment or combination of impairments they
do have still gives them a residual functioning capacity that
prevents them from performing past relevant work.
Leggett, 67 F.3d at 563, n. 2. Once the claimant
meets her burden in the first four steps, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant can
perform substantial gainful employment available in the
national economy. Greenspan, 38 F.3d at 236. The
burden then shifts back to the claimant to rebut this
finding. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 453 (5th
Cir. 2000). A determination at any step that the claimant is
or is not disabled within the meaning of the Act ends the
inquiry. Leggett, 67 F.3d at 564.