United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
O'CONNOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States Magistrate Judge issued his Report and
Recommendation (“R. & R.”) in this case.
See R. & R., ECF No. 18. Plaintiff timely filed
objections. See Obj. to R. & R., ECF No. 19. The
Court has concluded a de novo review of those portions of the
proposed findings to which an objection was made.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). Having reviewed the
motion, the applicable law, and the record before the Court,
the Court finds that the R. & R. in this case should be
and is hereby ACCEPTED and Plaintiff's objections
factual recitation is taken from the R. & R. in this
case. See R. & R., ECF No. 18. Plaintiff Alisha
Nicole Oestreich (“Plaintiff” or
“Oestreich”) applied for social security
disability insurance benefits on February 4, 2013, alleging
disability impairments as of January 1, 2010. Id. at
1. Oestreich's application was denied on April 4, 2013,
and was again denied on reconsideration on July 7, 2013.
Id. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) but was found
not to be disabled following the June 6, 2014 hearing.
Id. Oestreich then sought review from the Appeals
Council, which denied her request for review on October 29,
2015. Id. at 2. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision
constituted the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”). See Higginbotham
v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir. 2005). Finally,
Plaintiff sought judicial review of the denial decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), with the case being
referred to United States Magistrate Judge E. Scott Frost
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). R. & R. 1, ECF No.
Magistrate Judge's R. & R. recommends that the
decision of the ALJ be affirmed and Plaintiff's complaint
be dismissed. Id. at 9. Plaintiff objects to the R.
& R., arguing that: (1) the ALJ failed to give proper
weight to her symptoms of pain or to explain how her daily
activities undermined her credibility in relation to her
pain-related claims; and (2) the ALJ's classification of
her rheumatoid arthritis as a nonsevere impairment
constituted prejudicial error. Obj. to R. & R., ECF No.
review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits is
limited to whether the Commissioner's position is
supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner applied proper legal standards in evaluating the
evidence. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236
(5th Cir. 1994); 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(C)(3).
Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla,
less than a preponderance, and as being such relevant and
sufficient evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Leggett v. Chater,
67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). In applying the substantial
evidence standard, the reviewing court does not re-weigh the
evidence, retry the issues, or substitute its own judgment,
but rather, scrutinizes the record to determine whether
substantial evidence is present. Greenspan, 38 F.3d
at 236. A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate
only if there is a conspicuous absence of credible
evidentiary choices or contrary medical findings to support
the Commissioner's decision. Johnson v.
Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). “The
Commissioner, not the court, has the duty to weigh the
evidence, resolve material conflicts in the evidence, and
make credibility choices.” Carrier v.
Sullivan, 944 F.2d 105, 109 (5th Cir. 1991).
Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to
determine whether an individual is disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The steps are followed in
order, and if at any step the Commissioner determines that
the claimant is or is not disabled, the evaluation does not
go on to the next step. Id. The five steps consider:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) the medical severity of the claimant's
impairments; (3) whether the claimant's medical
impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically
equals the criteria listed in the Listing of Impairments; (4)
the claimant's residual functional capacity and past
relevant work; and (5) whether the combination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience allow for adjustments to be made to
permit the claimant to work. Id. If the impairment
is severe but does not meet or equal a listed impairment,
then the Commissioner must conduct a residual functional
capacity assessment. Id. § 404.1520(e).
scope of judicial review of a decision under the supplemental
security income program is identical to that of a decision
under the social security disability program. Davis v.
Heckler, 759 F.2d 432, 435 (5th Cir. 1985). Moreover,
the relevant law and regulations governing the determination
of disability under a claim for disability insurance benefits
are identical to those governing the determination under a
claim for supplemental security income. Id. Thus,
the Court may rely on decisions in both areas without
distinction in reviewing an ALJ's decision. Id.
case, the ALJ followed the five-step evaluation process.
See R. & R. 1-2, ECF No. 18. The ALJ determined:
(1) Oestreich had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 1, 2010; (2) Oestreich had the severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease and degenerative
joint disease; (3) Oestreich's severe impairments did not
meet and were not equivalent to any listed impairments; (4)
Oestreich could not perform any past relevant work; and (5)
Oestreich could perform a sufficient number of jobs in the
national economy. Id.
challenging the Magistrate Judge's affirmance of the
ALJ's denial of her disability claims, Oestreich argues
that: (1) the ALJ failed to give proper weight to her
symptoms of pain or to explain how her daily activities
undermined her credibility in relation to her pain-related
claims; and (2) the ALJ's classification of her
rheumatoid arthritis as a nonsevere impairment constituted
prejudicial error. Obj. to R. & R., ECF No. 19. The Court
will now examine Oestreich's arguments in turn.
Proper Weight Given to Pain-Induced Symptoms
contends that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to her
symptoms of pain as well as to explain the rationale for
finding that her daily activities weakened her credibility
regarding the level, persistence, and effects of her pain.
Id. at 1-2. However, there is ample evidence that
the ALJ did consider Plaintiff's pain symptoms when
making the disability determination but ...