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Melendez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 2, 2017

ESTHER MELENDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to the parties' consent to proceed before the undersigned, Doc. 15, this case has been reassigned to the Magistrate Judge. The Court now considers the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 22, is DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 23, is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). In August 2013, Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI, claiming that she had become disabled at that time due to diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, cholesterol, gallstones, heart problems, vision problems, sleep problems, headaches, fatigue, stiffness, chest pains, and affective mood disorders. Doc. 14-1 at 29; Doc. 14-1 at 51-53; Doc. 14-2 at 56-59; Doc. 14-2 at 78. Her application was denied at all administrative levels, and she now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc. 14-1 at 25; Doc. 14-1 at 52; Doc. 14-1 at 79-81, 85, 90; Doc. 14-12 at 43.

         B. Factual Background

         At the time of her alleged onset of disability, Plaintiff was 58 years old, had only attended school through the first grade, and was unable to read or write in either English or Spanish. Doc. 14-2 at 52, 56; Doc. 14-12 at 50. She had previous work experience as a cook. Doc. 14-1 at 38-39.

         At medical visits during the relevant time frame, Plaintiff reported pain in her abdomen, wrists, hands, and knees, as well as neck and shoulder pain on the right side, and neuropathy in her fingers and toes. Doc. 14-4 at 85-86; Doc. 14-4 at 98; Doc. 14-7 at 27; Doc. 14-7 at 35; Doc. 14-7 at 48; Doc. 14-8 at 94; Doc. 14-9 at 76; Doc. 14-9 at 69; Doc. 14-10 at 3; Doc. 14-10 at 10; Doc. 14-12 at 37. Plaintiff had decreased dexterity in both hands (although her grip strength was normal) and she was diagnosed with cataracts. Doc. 14-5 at 1-2; Doc. 14-10 at 4. On multiple occasions, Plaintiff was diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and neuropathy, among other conditions. Doc. 14-9 at 74; Doc. 14-9 at 87; Doc. 14-9 at 95; Doc. 14-10 at 7; Doc. 14-12 at 4; Doc. 14-12 at 21; Doc. 14-12 at 29. After Plaintiff's diabetes remained uncontrolled on oral medication, she was started on insulin. Doc. 14-9 at 59-60, 62, 65.

         Plaintiff was positive for blurred vision on a couple of occasions, at least one of which appears to have been the result of her losing her prescription eyeglasses. Doc. 14-12 at 36; Doc. 14-10 at 4. Generally, however, she did not complain of blurred vision or vision changes and had normal eye examinations. Doc. 14-9 at 81; Doc. 14-9 at 93-94; Doc. 14-9 at 97, 99; Doc. 14-10 at 1; Doc. 14-10 at 9; Doc. 14-12 at 26; Doc. 14-12 at 29-30.

         C. The ALJ's Findings

         In May 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act, first finding that Plaintiff's “severe impairments” were obesity and affective disorder/major depressive disorder. Doc. 14-1 at 21. The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the criteria of any listed impairment. Doc. 14-1 at 2219-20. Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, in that she could lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stand/walk/sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and concentrate for extended periods of time, but only when performing simple one-to-two step tasks that are repetitive in nature. Doc. 14-1 at 23. Based on this RFC finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform her past relevant work. Doc. 14-1 at 27. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Doc. 14-1 at 28.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         An individual is disabled under the Act if, inter alia, she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” which has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner uses the following sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled: (1) an individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled; (2) an individual who does not have a “severe impairment” is not disabled; (3) an individual who “meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1” of the regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors; (4) if an individual is capable of performing her past work, a finding of “not disabled” must be made; (5) if an individual's impairment precludes her from performing her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if any other work can be performed. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (summarizing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(f), 416.920 (b-(f)).

         Under the first four steps of the analysis, the burden of proof lies with the claimant. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). The analysis terminates if the Commissioner determines at any point during the first four steps that the claimant is disabled or is not disabled. Id. If the claimant satisfies her burden under the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that there is other gainful employment available in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). This burden may be satisfied either by reference ...


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