United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division
PAVNE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 30, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Keith J. Allred
issued a decision finding that Petitioner Jennifer Anne Lay
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act from January 24, 2013 through the date of the decision.
Ms. Lay, who was 42 with a high school education and two
years of college at that time, was found to be suffering from
severe impairments consisting of failed spinal surgery
syndrome and degenerative disc disease. These impairments
resulted in restrictions on her ability to work, and she had
not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since at
least January 24, 2013. Before that time, she had worked as a
housekeeper and personal trainer but never at a level
sufficient to qualify as substantial gainful activity.
reviewing the medical records and receiving the testimony at
the hearing, the ALJ determined that Petitioner had the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, as
defined in the Social Security Regulations, in that she can
lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds
frequently. She can stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday, and sit for up to 6 hours in a workday. She must
avoid production-paced or assembly line jobs, as well as
crawling or climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, and balance, stoop, bend,
squat, kneel and crouch.
Petitioner's RFC, the ALJ relied upon the testimony of
Vocational Expert William Weber and found that Petitioner had
the residual functional capacity to perform several jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
including ticket printer/tagger, mail clerk, and cashier.
This resulted in a finding of no disability, rendering her
ineligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits.
Petitioner appealed this finding to the Appeals Council,
which denied review on April 12, 2016. Petitioner timely
filed this action for judicial review seeking remand of the
case for award of benefits.
Court's review is limited to a determination of whether
the Commissioner's final decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating
the evidence. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172,
173 (5th Cir.1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d
232, 236 (5th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S.
1120, 115 S.Ct. 1984, 131 L.Ed.2d 871 (1995). Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but can be less than a
preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir.1995). 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)
(citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th
Cir.1983)). In reviewing the substantiality of the evidence,
a court must consider the record as a whole and “must
take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from
its weight.” Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d
818, 823 (5th Cir.1986).
raises three issues on this appeal:
1. The ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work without proper
consideration of Plaintiff's pain and other symptoms.
2. The ALJ erred in presenting an insufficient hypothetical,
ignoring non-exertional limitations, and then relying on that
hypothetical to find Plaintiff could perform light work.
3. The ALJ erred in discrediting the opinions of Drs. Terrell
has suffered from chronic lower back pain since 2004, having
undergone three back surgeries between 2005 and 2008. Because
the surgeries did not resolve her pain, she underwent
implantation of a spinal cord stimulator in 2009 but had to
have it removed in 2010. In July of 2013, shortly after the
alleged onset date of this petition, she had an MRI
performed, which showed “no disc herniation or spinal
stenosis.” Tr. 537. Nonetheless, her extensive medical
records document decreased range of motion, tenderness to
palpation, and muscle spasms in her lower back throughout the
relevant period. The difficult question in this case is the
degree to which those problems restrict her function.
first argument raised by Petitioner in Brief is that the ALJ
failed to properly consider Petitioner's complaints of
pain and other symptoms. Petitioner raises the issues of
depression and anxiety, and the adverse effects of her pain
medication. All of the medical sources, including Dr. Vora, a
specialist to whom Petitioner was referred by counsel, found
that Petitioner had no mental health issues that would
interfere with her functioning. Indeed, Dr. Terrell's
examination report notes that Petitioner denies depression
and anxiety. Tr. 468. However, Petitioner's testimony
raises the limiting effects of her pain, as does the report
of Dr. Vora (which will be addressed later).
complains in this issue that the ALJ discounted the
credibility of her testimony regarding pain and other
symptoms without proper explanation. The Commissioner
concedes that while the ALJ has great discretion in weighing
the evidence and determining credibility, there are
parameters governing ...