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Davidson v. Berryhill

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

June 15, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL[*], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Debra Louise Davidson seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and 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. (Doc. 12). After considering the pleadings, briefs, and administrative record, the undersigned ORDERS the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and Davidson's case DISMISSED.


         Davidson filed applications for DIB and SSI on June 24, 2013. Those applications were denied initially on September 25, 2013 and after reconsideration on January 3, 2014. Davidson requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge on September 24, 2014. The ALJ issued a decision on January 16, 2015 finding Davidson not disabled.

         Specifically, the ALJ found during step one that Davidson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2011. (Doc. 11-3, 12). At step two, the ALJ determined Davidson had the severe impairments of degenerative changes of the lumbar spine with spondylosis, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and alcohol abuse in remission. (Doc. 11-3, 13). In the third step, the ALJ found those severe impairments did not meet and were not equivalent to the standards of any listed mpairments. (Doc. 11-3, 13). The step three analysis continued, with the ALJ finding Davidson retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with the limitations that she "is able to understand, remember, and carryout simple tasks, attend and concentrate for extended periods, interact appropriately with coworkers and peers, ... respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting[, but] cannot have frequent contact with the public." (Doc. 11-3, 15). 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 Davidson could perform and found her not disabled. (Doc. 11-3, 21-23).

         Davidson applied to the Appeals Council, which denied review on May 17, 2016. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision and propely before the court for review. Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[T] tie Commissioner's final decision includes the Appeals Council's denial of [a claimant's] request for review.").


         According to her pleadings, testimony, and the administrative record, Davidson was 49 years old and married at the time of the administrative hearing. She has experience working as a nurse's aide and mental health aide, as well as in telemarketing. She believes her physical and mental impairments render her disabled under the Act.


         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.3c 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, ...

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