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Mundt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

May 2, 2017

LINDA MUNDT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

          E. SCOTT FROST, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Linda Mundt seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The United States District Judge reassigned the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties have unanimously consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. After considering the pleadings, briefs, and administrative record, the undersigned affirms the Commissioner's decision and dismisses Mundt's complaint.

         I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Mundt filed her application for SSI on June 25, 2012. That application was denied initially on February 6, 2013 and after reconsideration on June 10, 2013. Mundt requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge on June 26, 2014. The ALJ issued a decision on September 15, 2014 finding Mundt not disabled.

         Specifically, the ALJ found during step one that Mundt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 25, 2012. (Doc. 14-3, 14). At step two, the ALJ determined Mundt had the severe impairments of post-concussion syndrome, cervical muscle spasms, carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical strain, lumbar sprain, bilateral knee sprain, a reconstructed right ACL, chronic pain syndrome, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees, vestibular concussion, chronic headache, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, posttraumatic stress disorder, a cognitive disorder with generalized loss of capacity and severe memory problems, depression, anxiety, borderline intellectual function, and panic attacks with claustrophobic symptoms. Id. In the third step, the ALJ found those severe impairments did not meet and were not equivalent to any listed impairments. Id. at 15. The step three analysis continued, with the ALJ finding Mundt retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with limitations to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, stand or walk with normal breaks for six hours of an eight-hour workday, occasionally perform pushing and pulling activities with the bilateral upper and lower extremities, occasionally climb ramps or stairs, never climb ladders or scaffolding, occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, or crawl, avoid dangerous machinery and unprotected heights, avoid commercial driving, and carry out simple instructions with "no more than occasional interaction with the public or co-workers." Id. at 17. At step four, the ALJ determined she could not return to past relevant work, and at step five accepted vocational expert testimony that there were sufficient jobs Mundt could perform and found her not disabled. Id. at 27.

         Mundt applied to the Appeals Council, which denied review on October 21, 2015. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision and properly before the court for review. Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[T]he Commissioner's final decision includes the Appeals Council's denial of [a claimant's] request for review.").

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         According to her pleadings, testimony, and the administrative record, Mundt was 51 years old and living with her fourteen year-old daughter at the time of the administrative hearing. She has experience working the front desk for a boat repair company. She believes her physical and mental impairments render her disabled under the Act.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled if she is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(c)(a)(3)(A), 423 (d)(1)(A) (2012). '"Substantial gainful activity' is work activity involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit." Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a)-(b).

         To evaluate a disability claim, the Commissioner follows 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); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). "The claimant bears the burden of showing she is disabled through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth, the Commissioner must show that there is other substantial work in the national economy that the claimant can perform." Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. Before proceeding to steps 4 and 5, the Commissioner must assess a claimant's RFC. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). RFC is defined as "the most [a claimant] can still do despite [the claimant's] limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1).

         This court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to an inquiry into whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Sun v. Colvin,793 F.3d 502, 508 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Boyd v. Apfel,239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001)). "Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion' and constitutes 'more than a mere scintilla' but 'less than a preponderance' of evidence." Hardman v, Colvin,820 F.3d 142, 147 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000)). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, then ...


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