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Sarmiento v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

June 6, 2017

RAFAELA Z. SARMIENTO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

         (-LS by Consent)

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEON SCHYDLOWER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rafaela Z. Sarmiento appeals the denial of her Social Security disability benefits claim under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties consent to my determination under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules for the Western District of Texas. I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         Sarmiento applied for disability insurance benefits in February 2013 alleging disability beginning on July 23, 2011.[2] After the Commissioner denied her initial application and request for reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing in November 2014.[3] The ALJ heard testimony from Sarmiento, who was represented by counsel, and from a vocational expert. In an opinion dated March 27, 2015, the ALJ determined that Sarmiento was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.[4] The Appeals Council denied her request for review, making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner.[5]

         On appeal, Sarmiento argues that the ALJ erred in not finding Sarmiento's affective mood disorder severe enough to meet or equal one of the impairments listed in the appendix to the regulations.[6] She also argues that the ALJ erred in determining her residual functional capacity (what she can still do workwise) because the ALJ failed to accommodate her alleged standing and walking limitations.[7]

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to two inquiries: 1) whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole; and 2) whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence Ais more than a mere scintilla, and less than a preponderance.@ Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. The Commissioner's findings will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. Id.

         In evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential process to determine whether: (1) the claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix to the regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past work; and (5) the claimant can perform other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704-05 (5th Cir. 2001).

         Courts utilize four elements of proof to determine whether there is substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history. Perez, 415 F.3d at 462. A court cannot, however, reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir. 1985). The Commissioner, not the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence. See Patton v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983).

         B. The ALJ's Findings

         At steps one and two, the ALJ determined that Sarmiento had not worked since October 2009[8] and had severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, degenerative disc disease, obesity, and affective mood disorder.[9] At step three, she determined none of these impairments met or equaled an impairment listed in the appendix to the regulations.[10]

         At the next step, the ALJ found that Sarmiento had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “medium work, ” with some limits on the complexity of the work to be performed.[11]The ALJ relied on vocational expert testimony to determine that Sarmiento could perform her past work as an assembly solderer, which was light and unskilled work.[12] The ALJ concluded that Sarmiento was not disabled and not entitled to disability insurance benefits.[13]

         C. Mental Impairment

         Sarmiento argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find that Sarmiento's affective mood disorder was severe enough to meet or equal one of the impairments listed in the appendix to the regulations.[14] If the ALJ had so found, Sarmiento would be deemed “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d). At issue is whether Sarmiento's mood disorder results in at least two of the following:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
3. Marked difficulties in maintain concentration, persistence, or pace; or
4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1, ...

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