United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
FRANCES H. STACY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court in this social security appeal is
Plaintiffs Motion For Summary Judgment (Document No. 11),
Defendant's Cross-Motion For Summary Judgment (Document
No. 12), Memorandum In Support of Defendant's
Cross-Motion For Summary Judgment (Document No. 13), and
Defendant's Reply to Plaintiffs Cross-Motion For Summary
Judgment (Document No. 14). Having considered the motions for
summary judgment, the administrative record, the written
decision of the Administrative Law Judge, and the applicable
law, the Court ORDERS, for the reasons set forth below, that
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED,
Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED,
and the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration is REMANDED pursuant to the fourth sentence of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings.
James Lavaughn Young ("Young") brings this action
pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of an adverse final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner")
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
Young argues that substantial evidence does not support the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision
because the ALJ (1) failed to consider Young's blurry
vision as a severe impairment and (2) failed to properly
apply the controlling law in assessing Residual Functioning
Capacity (RFC). The Commissioner, in contrast, contends that
(1) there is substantial evidence in the record to support
the ALJ's decision; (2) the decision comports with
applicable law; and (3) that the decision should therefore be
applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB")
on January 7, 2014, claiming that he had been unable to work
since January 7, 2014 as a result of sickle cell disease,
problems walking, problems sitting, and problems with vision.
(Tr. 224). The Social Security Administration denied his
application at the initial and reconsideration stages.
Subsequently, Young requested a hearing before an ALJ. The
Social Security Administration granted his request and the
ALJ, Susan J. Soddy, held a hearing on September 17, 2015, at
which Young's claims were considered de novo.
(Tr. 32-61). Thereafter, on March 16, 2016, the ALJ issued
the decision finding Young not disabled. (Tr. 10-23).
sought review of the ALJ's adverse decision with the
Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will grant a request to
review an ALJ's decision if any of the following
circumstances are present: (1) it appears that the ALJ abused
his discretion; (2) the ALJ made an error of law in reaching
his conclusion; (3) substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's actions, findings or conclusions; or (4) a broad
policy issue may affect the public interest. 20 C.F.R. §
416.1470. On June 25, 2016, the Appeals Council found no
basis for review. (Tr. 1-4). The ALJ's decision thus
filed a timely appeal of the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Both sides have filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment, each of which has been fully briefed. The appeal is
now ripe for ruling.
Standard of Review of Agency Decision
court's review of a denial of disability benefits is
limited "to determining (1) whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether the
Commissioner's decision comports with relevant legal
standards." Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693
(5th Cir. 1999). Title 42, Section 405(g) limits judicial
review of the Commissioner's decision: "The findings
of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive."
The Act specifically grants the district court the power to
enter judgment, upon the pleadings and transcript,
"affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding
the cause for a rehearing" when not supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While it is
incumbent upon the court to examine the record in its
entirety to decide whether the decision is supportable,
Simmons v. Harris, 602 F.2d 1233, 1236
(5th Cir. 1979), the court may not "reweigh
the evidence in the record, nor try the issues de novo, nor
substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner] even
if the evidence preponderates against the
[Commissioner's] decision." Johnson v.
Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343 (5th Cir. 1988);
see also Jones, 174 F.3d at 693; Cook v.
Heckler, 750 F.2d 391 (5th Cir. 1985). Conflicts in the
evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve. Anthony v.
Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992).
United States Supreme Court defines "substantial
evidence, " as used in the Act, to be "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197,
229 (1938)). Substantial evidence is "more than a
scintilla and less than a preponderance." Spellman
v. Shalala, 1 F.3d. 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993). The
evidence must create more than "a suspicion of the
existence of the fact to be established, but no
'substantial evidence' will be found only where there
is a 'conspicuous absence of credible choices' or
'no contrary medical evidence.'" Hames v.
Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983).
Burden of Proof
individual claiming entitlement to disability insurance
benefits under the Act has the burden of proving his
disability. Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 344 (5th
Cir. 1988). The Act defines disability as the "inability
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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The
impairment must be proven through medically accepted clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). The impairment must be severe as to limit the
claimant in the following manner:
he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists
in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be
hired if he applied to work.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The mere presence of
impairment is not enough to establish that one is suffering
from a disability. Rather, a claimant is disabled only if he
is "incapable of engaging in any substantial gainful
activity." Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289,
293 (5th Cir. 1992) (quoting Milam v.
Bowen, 782 F.2d 1284, 1286 (5th Cir. 1986)).
Commissioner applies a five-step sequential process to decide
1. If the claimant is presently working, a finding of
"not disabled" must be made;
2. If the claimant does not have a "severe
impairment" or combination of impairments, he will not