United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
YOLANDA G. DEL RIO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
F. CASTANEDA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative
decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties
having consented to trial on the merits before a United
States Magistrate Judge, the case was transferred to this
Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), and Rule CV-72 and Appendix C to the Local
Court Rules for the Western District of Texas.
Yolanda G. Del Rio, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth
below, this Court orders that the Commissioner's decision
19, 2014, Plaintiff filed her application for DIB, alleging a
disability onset date of November 29, 2013. (R:182-89). Her
application was denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. (R:99-100). Plaintiff's requested
hearing was conducted on April 7, 2016. (R:44-57). The
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision on June 1, 2016, denying benefits. (R:18-43). On
September 27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review.
presents the following issues for review:
1. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's
subjective complaints. (Doc 24:4).
2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion
evidence. (Doc 24:8).
3. Whether the ALJ's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) finding is supported by substantial
evidence. (Doc. 24:2).
Standard of Review
Court's review is limited to a determination of whether
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper
legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309
F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002); Martinez v. Chater,
64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).
Substantial evidence must be “more than a mere
scintilla[, ]” but can be less than a preponderance; it
is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(citation omitted). The Commissioner's findings will be
upheld if supported by substantial evidence.
Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. A finding of no
substantial evidence will be made “only where there is
a conspicuous absence of credible choices or no contrary
medical evidence.” Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d
638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam) (citations and
internal quotations omitted).
applying the substantial evidence standard, the court may
“not re-weigh the evidence, try the questions de
novo, or substitute [its own] judgment for the
Commissioner's, even if [it] believe[s] the evidence
weighs against the Commissioner's decision.”
Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272 (citation omitted).
“Conflicts in the evidence are for the [Commissioner]
and not the courts to resolve.” Spellman v.
Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation
evaluate disability, the ALJ engages in a sequential
five-step process: (1) whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or
mental impairment (“MDI”); (3) whether the
claimant's impairment(s) meet or equal the severity of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix
1; (4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from
performing past relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment
prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. If, at any step, the Commissioner finds
that the claimant is or is not disabled, the five-step
inquiry ends. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564
(5th Cir. 1995).
must determine the claimant's RFC, the most an individual
can still do despite her limitations. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1); Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
96-8p. To make this determination, the ALJ must consider all
the record evidence and the claimant's abilities despite
her physical and mental limitations. Perez v.
Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 462 (5th Cir. 2005).
Furthermore, the ALJ must consider the limiting effects of an
individual's impairments, even those that are non-severe,
and any related symptoms. See 20 C.F.R. §
§ 404.1529, 404.1545(a)(3); SSR 96-98p. But,
“[t]he relative weight to be given [to the] evidence is
within the ALJ's discretion.” Chambliss v.
Massanari, 269 F.3d 520, 523 n. 1 (5th Cir. 2001)
claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps of
the analysis. Leggett, 67 F.3d at 564. If this
burden is met, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show
there is other substantial gainful employment available that
the claimant is capable of performing. Anderson v.
Sullivan, 887 F.2d 630, 632 (5th Cir. 1989). The
Commissioner may meet this burden by the use of opinion
testimony of vocational experts or by the use of
administrative guidelines provided in the form of
regulations. Rivers v. Schweiker, 684 F.2d 1144,
1155 (5th Cir. 1982). If the Commissioner adequately points
to potential alternative employment, the burden shifts back
to the claimant to prove that she is unable to perform the
alternative work. Anderson, 887 F.2d at 632-33.
present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe
impairments of: fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and
osteoarthritis. (R:26). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had
non-severe upper respiratory infection, urinary tract
infection, hyperlipidemia, thyroid cyst, urinary frequency,
gastroenteritis/colitis, depression, and anxiety. (R:26-30).
The ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's impairments,
either alone or in combination, met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments. (R:30). The ALJ further found that
the evidence provided little support for Plaintiff's
testimony regarding her alleged side effects. (R:35). Upon
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work with the
following limitations: she can occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, or crouch, and cannot crawl or climb. (R:30).
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing
her past relevant work as a Cashier II. (R:37). Consequently,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled from November
29, 2013, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R:38).
The ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Subjective
contends that the ALJ erred in his credibility assessment of
Plaintiff's subjective complaints regarding her symptoms.
(Doc. 24:4). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that none of the
ALJ's reasons for discrediting Plaintiff's complaints
were based on facts supported by medical evidence and were,
instead, based solely on the ALJ's opinion and
conjecture. (Id.). Thus, Plaintiff suggests that the
ALJ's findings regarding her symptoms resulted in an
inaccurate RFC, which tainted the remaining steps in the
evaluation. (Doc. 24:5).
are defined as the individual's own description or
statement of her physical or mental impairment. SSR 16-3p. In
determining disability, the ALJ must consider “all
symptoms and the extent to which symptoms can reasonably be
accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence
and other evidence based on the requirements of 20 [C.F.R.
§ 404.1529(a)] and SSR 96-4p.” (R:30). The ALJ
must determine (1) whether the individual has an MDI that
could reasonably be expected to produce the individual's
alleged symptoms; and (2) whether the intensity and
persistence of those symptoms limit an individual's
ability. SSR 96-7p; see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c). However, an individual's statements of
symptoms are not enough to establish disability. Id.
allegations are not substantiated by objective medical
evidence, the ALJ may consider evidence of the following in
the record to assess the credibility of Plaintiff's
1. The individual's daily activities;
2. The location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the
individual's pain ...