United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
F. CASTANEDA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative
decision. Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), denying her claims for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d), 1382c(a)(3). Jurisdiction is predicated upon 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties having consented to trial
on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, the
case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of
judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C
to the Local Court Rules of the Western District of Texas.
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's
decision is affirmed.
April 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and
SSI. (R:17, 124-125, 148-149)The applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration. (R:124-125, 148-149)
Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing to review
Plaintiff's application de novo on May 12, 2015,
at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified. (R:84-107) The ALJ issued his decision on June 1,
2015, denying benefits. (R:17-27) Plaintiff's request for
review was denied by the Appeals Council on August 30, 2016.
presents the following issue for review:
1. Whether the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff's
cervical spine impairment is not of listing level severity.
2. Whether the ALJ's RFC finding is supported by
substantial evidence. (Id.)
Standard of Review
Court's review is limited to a determination of whether
the Commissioner's final decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating
the evidence. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172,
173 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d
232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S.
1120 (1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla,
but can be less than a preponderance, and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552,
555 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding of no substantial evidence
will be made only where there is a “conspicuous absence
of credible choices” or “no contrary medical
evidence.” Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640
(5th Cir. 1988) (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d
162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)). In reviewing the substantiality of
the evidence, a court must consider the record as a whole and
“must take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight.” Singletary v.
Bowen, 798 F.2d 818, 823 (5th Cir. 1986).
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed.
Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173. In applying the
substantial evidence standard, a court must carefully examine
the entire record, but may not reweigh the evidence or try
the issues de novo. Haywood v. Sullivan,
888 F.2d 1463, 1466 (5th Cir. 1989). It may not substitute
its own judgment “even if the evidence preponderates
against the [Commissioner's] decision, ” because
substantial evidence is less than a preponderance.
Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988).
Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, and not
the courts, to resolve. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d
357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993).
is defined as the “inability to engage in substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment 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). The ALJ
evaluates disability claims according to a sequential
five-step process: 1) whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; 2) whether the
claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is
severe; 3) whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or
equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart B, Appendix 1; 4) whether the impairment
prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; and
5) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from ...