United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
DANNY T. WILKERSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Danny T. Wilkerson seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained
below, the hearing decision is remanded.
alleges that he is disabled due to a variety of ailments,
including “fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome,
among other things.” Dkt. No. 16 at 6. After his
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits was denied initially and on
reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). That hearing
was held on September 24, 2014. At the time of the hearing,
he was 50 years old. He is a high school graduate and does
not have past relevant work as that term is defined in the
Commissioner's regulations. He has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 9, 2012.
found that Wilkerson was not disabled and therefore not
entitled to SSI benefits. Although the medical evidence
established that he suffered from fibromyalgia, chronic
fatigue syndrome, major depressive disorder, panic disorder,
anxiety, and social phobia, among other conditions, the ALJ
concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet
or equal any impairment listed in the social security
regulations. The ALJ further determined that he “ha[d]
the residual functional capacity to sit up to six hours and
stand up to six hours in an eight-hour day, ... to lift ten
pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally,
occasionally climb, balance, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl, ... [and] occasionally interact with the general
public, and with supervisors and coworkers.”
Administrative Record [Dkt. No. 12] (“Tr”) at 25.
on a vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that
Wilkerson was capable of working as a photocopy operator,
housekeeper, and routing clerk - jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy. Given his age,
education, and exertional capacity for light work, the ALJ
determined that he was not disabled under the
appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The Council
filed this action in federal district court. He challenges
the hearing decision on three general grounds: (1) the ALJ
improperly rejected the opinion of his treating physician,
Dr. Deno Barroga; (2) the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion
of an examining psychologist, Dr. Julie Duncan, PhD; and (3)
substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's findings
with respect to Wilkerson's residual functional capacity
Court determines that the hearing decision must be reversed
and this case remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
review in social security cases is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards to evaluate
the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir.
2014); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir.
1995). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923. The Commissioner,
rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the
evidence, including weighing conflicting testimony and
determining witnesses' credibility, and the Court does
not try the issues de novo. See Martinez v.
Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan
v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994). This Court
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for
the Commissioner's but must scrutinize the entire record
to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports the
hearing decision. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923;
Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir.
1988). The Court “may affirm only on the grounds that
the Commissioner stated for [the] decision.”
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.
order to qualify for disability insurance benefits or
[supplemental security income], a claimant must suffer from a
disability.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c),
416.927(c). A disabled worker is entitled to monthly social
security benefits if certain conditions are met. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines
“disability” as the inability to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or last for a continued period of
12 months. See Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Cook v. Heckler, 750
F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).
evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner conducts a
five-step sequential analysis to determine whether (1) the
claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment
listed in appendix 1 of the social security regulations; (4)
the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant
work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing
any other substantial gainful activity.” Audler v.
Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir. 2007).
claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a
disability through the first four steps of the analysis; on
the fifth, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that
there is other substantial work in the national economy that
the claimant can perform. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at
923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. A finding that the
claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the
five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis.
See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Lovelace v.
Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987).
reviewing the propriety of a decision that a claimant is not
disabled, the Court's function is to ascertain whether
the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's final decision. The Court
weighs four elements to determine whether there is
substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical
facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining
physicians; (3) subjective evidence of pain and disability;
and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
See Martinez, 64 F.3d at 174.
has a duty to fully and fairly develop the facts relating to
a claim for disability benefits. See Ripley, 67 F.3d
at 557. If the ALJ does not satisfy this duty, the resulting
decision is not substantially justified. See Id.
However, the Court does not hold the ALJ to procedural
perfection and will reverse the ALJ's decision as not
supported by substantial evidence where the claimant shows
that the ALJ failed to fulfill the duty to adequately develop
the record only if that failure prejudiced Plaintiff, see
Jones v. Astrue, 691 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 2012) -
that is, only if Plaintiff's substantial rights have been
affected, see Audler, 501 F.3d at 448.
“Prejudice can be established by showing that
additional evidence would have been produced if the ALJ had
fully developed the record, and that the additional evidence
might have led to a different decision.”
Ripley, 67 F.3d at 557 n.22. Put another way,
Plaintiff “must show that he could and would have
adduced evidence that might have altered the result.”
Brock v. Chater, 84 F.3d 726, 728-29 (5th Cir.
The ALJ erred when assigning Dr. Barroga's ...