United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Waco Division
JEFFREY C. MANSKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Carter, hereinafter “Plaintiff, ” seeks judicial
review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying
his claim for Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
reasons set forth below, the undersigned finds that the final
decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
November 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed his application for DIB
claiming numerous impairments and a disability onset date of
October 25, 2012. Tr. 20, 81. On November 8, 2012,
Plaintiff's claim was initially denied and denied again
upon reconsideration on August 6, 2013. Tr. 20. On August 12,
2013, Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 20. ALJ
Malinda W. Kirkpatrick presided over the hearing in Waco,
Texas on August 20, 2014. Id. On November 19, 2014,
the ALJ upheld the Agency's denial of Plaintiff's
claim. Tr. 1, 32. On May 20, 2016 the Appeals Council denied
review of the ALJ's decision rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1. On
July 14, 2017, Plaintiff timely brought an action seeking
judicial review to the Waco Division of the United States
District Court for the Western District of Texas. ECF No.
Age, Education, and Work Experience
was born on June 2, 1956 and was 56 years old at the time of
the ALJ's decision. Tr. 30. Plaintiff graduated high
school and is able to communicate in English. Tr. 30.
Plaintiff's past work experience includes military
service and contract work as a field service technician, food
service supervisor, cook helper, and supply clerk. Tr. 30-31.
decided two issues: (1) whether Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of S.S.A. §§ 216(i) and 223;
and (2) whether Plaintiff was disabled under S.S.A.
§§ 216(i) and 223(d). Tr. at 20. Id.
First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability insured
status for purposes of Title II Disability Insurance Benefits
eligibility extended to December 31, 2017. Tr. 20. Second,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled from October
25, 2012 to the date of the ALJ's decision, November 19,
2014. Tr. 20, 32.
decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's disability
status by applying the five-step evaluation process found in
20 CFR 404.1520(a). Tr. 21-32. At Step 1, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from the alleged onset date, October 25, 2012. Tr. 22.
2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had multiple severe
impairments. Id. The ALJ found Plaintiff's
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), major
depressive disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, migraine headaches, diabetes
mellitus, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, bilateral
hallux valgus post repair, and history of dependency all to
be severe impairments. Id. The ALJ found at Step 3
that Plaintiff's impairments to that date did not meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 23-26.
to Step 4, the ALJ must determine Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). An RFC determination
combines medical assessment with descriptions by physicians,
the claimant, and others, of any limitations on the
claimant's ability to work. Brown v. Barnhart,
372 F.Supp.2d 957, 974 (S.D. Tex. 2005); see Elzy v.
Railroad Retirement Bd., 782 F.2d 1223, 1225 (5th Cir.
1986); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. When
determining Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered all
symptoms to the extent they could be reasonably accepted as
consistent with objective medical evidence in accordance with
20 CFR 404.1529, SSRs 96-4p and 96-7p. Id. The ALJ
also considered medical, and other, opinion evidence in
accordance with 20 CFR 404.1527 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p,
and 06-3p. Tr. 26-27. In doing so, the ALJ found that the
claimant's medically determinable impairments could cause
the claimant's alleged symptoms. Tr. 28.
found, however, that Plaintiff's statements regarding the
severity, persistence, and limiting effects of the alleged
symptoms were not entirely credible because they contradicted
the medical evidence as a whole. Tr. 28-30. Thus,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual capacity to:
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except
stand or walk six out of eight hours, sit for six out of
eight hours, no exposure to hazards, moving machinery, or
unprotected heights, and he must avoid concentrated exposure
to excessive noise levels.
on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ
found at Step 4 that Plaintiff was unable to perform past
relevant work as a field service technician, food service
supervisor, cook helper, and supply clerk. Tr. 30. The
vocational expert (“VE”)'s testimony is
valuable in this regard, as the VE is “familiar with
the specific requirements of a particular occupation,
including working conditions and the attributes and skills
needed.” Fields v. Bowen, 805 F.2d 1168, 1170
(5th Cir. 1986); accord Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d
131, 145 (5th Cir. 2000); see also Vaughan v.
Shalala, 58 F.3d 129, 132 (5th Cir. 1995).
claimant's RFC is not sufficient to continue his former
work, the ALJ considers the claimant's age, education,
and work experience in determining whether the claimant is
capable of performing other work available in the national
economy. See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 705 (5th
Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At Step 5, the ALJ
found that given Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, Plaintiff was capable of performing
other jobs in the national economy existing in significant
numbers. Tr. 30-31. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled. Tr. 32. In the present case, Plaintiff asks the
Court to reverse the Commissioner's final decision and
remand the determination for rehearing. See
Pl.'s Br. at 20.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review is limited to the record, and the Court will
neither conduct de novo review, make credibility
determinations, nor re-weigh the evidence. Hames v.
Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983) (per curiam).
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny a
claimant disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) is limited to determining whether substantial evidence
in the record exists to support the Commissioner's
decision, and whether the ALJ followed relevant legal
standards in evaluating the evidence. Martinez v.
Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).
evidence is described as more than a scintilla, but less than
a preponderance. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289,
295 (5th Cir. 1992). It requires evidence that is relevant
and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 400 (1971); Jones v. Heckler, 702 F.2d
616, 620 (5th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence creates more
than a mere suspicion that the fact to be established exists.
Hames, 707 F.2d at 164. Finding the decision lacks
substantial evidence is only proper when no credible medical
findings or evidence support the determination. Johnson
v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988).
determining whether substantial evidence of disability
exists, a court will weigh: (1) objective medical facts or
clinical findings; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and
examining physicians; (3) Plaintiff's subjective evidence
of pain and disability; and (4) the claimant's age,
education, and work history. Wren v. Sullivan, 925
F.2d 123, 126 (5th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (citing
DePaepe v. Richardson, 464 F.2d 92, 94 (5th Cir.
1972)). If the ALJ applied the proper principles of law, and
if the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings are
conclusive and must be affirmed, even if substantial evidence
exists that would support an alternate finding. Arkansas
v. Oklahoma, 503 U.S. 91, 113 (1992); Martinez,
64 F.3d at 173 (citing Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390);
Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197 (5th Cir. 1999).
reverse the Commissioner's decision, the court must find
that the ALJ committed a reversible error, one affecting the
claimant's substantial rights. See Mays v.
Bowen, 837 F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)
(“Remanding this case . . . would produce the same
result while wasting time and resources.”); see
also Morris v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 333, 335 (5th Cir. 1988)
(holding that “procedural improprieties . . .
constitute a basis for remand only if such improprieties
would cast into doubt the existence of substantial evidence
to support the ALJ's decision”). “Harmless
error exists when it is inconceivable that a different
administrative conclusion would have been reached absent the
error.” Bornette v. Barnhart, 466 F.Supp.2d
811, 816 (E.D. Tex. 2006) (citing Frank v. Barnhart,
326 F.3d 618, 622 (5th Cir. 2003)); see also Fisher v.
Bowen, 869 F.2d 1055, 1057 (7th Cir. 1989) (error is
harmless unless there is reason to think that remand might
lead to a different result). “The major policy
underlying the harmless error rule is to preserve judgments
and avoid waste of time.” Mays, 837 F.2d at
1364 (citing Gulf States Utils. Co. v. Ecodyne
Corp., 635 F.2d 517, 520 (5th Cir. 1981)).