United States District Court, N.D. Texas, San Angelo Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SCOTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff seeks judicial review
of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. See Compl. (doc. 1). The
Commissioner has filed an answer, see Def.'s
Answer (doc. 13), and a certified copy of the transcript of
the administrative proceedings, see SSA Admin. R.
[hereinafter "R."] (doc. 15), including the hearing
before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The
parties have briefed the issues. See Pl's Br.
(doc. 19); Def.'s Resp. Br. (doc. 20). The United States
District Judge reassigned the case to the undersigned subject
to the consent of the parties. See Order (doc. 4).
Because the parties have consented to proceed before a
Magistrate Judge, the undersigned has full authority under 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) to consider this appeal, including
issuing a final judgment. See Consents to Proceed
Before a United States Magistrate Judge (docs. 16, 18). After
considering the pleadings, briefs, admin- istrative record,
and applicable law, the Court reverses the Commissioner's
decision and remands this case for further administrative
proceedings consistent with this order.
initially claimed disability due to post-traumatic stress
disorder ("PTSD"), anxiety, and an arm injury. R.
144. He protectively filed an application for SSI on March 6,
2012, alleging disability beginning August 8, 2011. R. 128,
144. The Commissioner denied the application initially and on
reconsideration. R. 47-48. On November 19, 2013,
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William Helsper
held a hearing on Plaintiffs claims. See R. 31-45.
Through his representative at the hearing before the ALJ,
Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to July 4, 2013,
based upon a metastatic disease. R. 32.
February 12, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and was capable of
performing work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. R. 12-23. Applying the sequential,
five-step analysis set out in the regulations (20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)) the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
amended alleged onset date. R. 14. The ALJ next determined
that Plaintiff had "the following severe impairments:
diabetes, hepatitis C, arthritis, degenerative disc disease,
hypertension, left arm pain status post injury, soft tissue
sarcoma, polysubstance abuse, in remission, posttraumatic
stress disorder, [and] obsessive compulsive disorder."
Id. Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
equaled the severity of any impairment in the
listings. R. 14-17.
then determined that Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), except that he was
limited to simple, non-complex tasks. R. 17-21. Based upon the RFC
determination and testimony from a vocational expert
("VE"), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not
perform his past relevant work, but could perform jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. R.
21-22. At Step 5 of the evaluative sequence, the ALJ thus
found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act since March 6, 2012. R. 23.
1, 2015, the Appeals Council found no reason to review the
ALJ decision and thus denied Plaintiff s request for review.
R. 1. The ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision and is properly before the Court for review. See
Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir.
2005) (stating that the Commissioner's final decision
"includes the Appeals Council's denial of [a
claimant's] request for review").
commenced this social security appeal on November 4, 2015.
See Compl. In the sole issue presented, he argues
that the ALJ improperly considered opinions of his treating
physician. See Pl's Br. at 1-13.
general,  a person is disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act, when he or 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
'"Substantial gainful activity' is work activity
involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or
profit." Master son v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267,
271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1572(a)-(b)); accord 20 C.F.R. §
416.972(a)-(b). To evaluate a disability claim, the
Commissioner employs the previously mentioned
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). If, at any step, the Commissioner determines that the
claimant is or is "not disabled, the inquiry is
terminated." Id. at 448. The Commissioner must
assess the claimant's RFC before proceeding to Steps 4
and 5. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th
Cir. 2005). For Steps 1 through 4, the claimant has the
burden to show disability, but the Commissioner has the
burden at Step 5 to "show that there is other
substantial work in the national economy that the claimant
can perform." Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. If the
Commissioner carries that Step 5 burden, "the burden
shifts back to the claimant to rebut th[e] finding" that
he or she can perform other work that is available in the
national economy. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 453
(5th Cir. 2000).
review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is
limited to determining whether that decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards
are applied." Sun v. Colvin, 793 F.3d 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, 209 F.3d at
452). "In applying the substantial evidence standard,
the court scrutinizes the record to determine whether such
evidence is present, but may not reweigh the evidence or
substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's."
Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. The courts neither "try
the questions de novo" nor substitute their
"judgment for the Commissioner's, even if [they]
believe the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's
decision." Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. The
Commissioner resolves conflicts of evidence. Sun,
793 F.3d at 508.
contends that, when determining his RFC, the ALJ failed to
properly consider opinions of his treating physician,
Federico Ilang-Ilang, M.D. While characterizing the issue as
a failure to accord the opinions controlling weight, he also
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the opinions by
failing to conduct the detailed analysis required by
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2000) and 20
C.F.R. § 416.927.
considering whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
considers the medical evidence available, including medical
opinions. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b)
(effective Aug. 24, 2012, to Mar. 26, 2017). Medical opinions
may come from treating sources (for example primary care
physicians), non-treating sources (physicians who perform a
single examination of the claimant), or non-examining sources
(a physician who reviews only the claimant's medical
record). See generally 20 C.F.R. § 416.902
(effective June 13, 2011, to Mar. 26, 2017). The Fifth
Circuit has "long held that ordinarily the opinions,
diagnoses, and medical evidence of a treating physician who
is familiar with the claimant's injuries, treatments, and
responses should be accorded considerable weight in
determining disability." Greenspan v. Shalala,
38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Scott v.
Heckler, 770 F.2d 482, 485 (5th Cir. 1985)).
Nevertheless, even opinions from a treating source are
"far from conclusive, " because ALJs have "the
sole responsibility for determining the claimant's
disability status." Id.; accord Paul v.
Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 211 (5th Cir. 1994).
identifying relevant medical opinions of treating physicians,
ALJs must determine whether any such opinion is entitled to
controlling weight." Bentley v. Colvin, No.
3:13-CV-4238-P, 2015 WL 5836029, at *7 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30,
2015) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2) and its Title II
counterpart, § 404.1527(c)(2)). When identifying and
considering relevant opinions, ALJs "must remember"
that some medical records, such as medical source statements
provided by a treating source, "may actually comprise
separate medical opinions regarding diverse physical and
mental functions, such as walking, lifting, seeing, and
remembering instructions, and that it may be necessary to
decide whether to adopt or not adopt each one." Titles
II & XVI: Med. Source Ops. on Issues Reserved to the
Comm'r, SSR 96-5P, 1996 WL 374183, at *4 (S.S.A. July 2,
regulations provide a six-factor detailed analysis to follow
unless the ALJ gives "a treating source's opinion
controlling weight." 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1)-(6)
(effective Aug. 24, 2012, to Mar. 26, 2017). "When a
treating source has given an opinion on the nature and
severity of a patient's impairment, such opinion is
entitled to controlling weight if it is (1)
'well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques' and (2) 'not
inconsistent with' other substantial evidence."
Wilder v. Colvin, No. 3:13-CV-3014-P, 2014 WL
2931884, at *3 (N.D. Tex. June 30, 2014) (quoting Newton
v. Apfel,209 F.3d 448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000));
accord 10 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2) (effective
Aug. 24, 2012, to Mar. 26, 2017). Furthermore, "absent
reliable medical evidence from a treating or examining
physician controverting the claimant's treating