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Patel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

September 19, 2017

Ajaykumar Maganbhai Patel, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Stephen Wm Smith, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Ajaykumar Maganbhaui Patel filed this case under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for social security disability benefits. Dkt. 14. Both parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction. Dkt. 12. Patel and the Commissioner moved for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 13, 15. After reviewing the record and the law, Patel's motion is granted, the Commissioner's motion is denied, and the case remanded for further administrative proceedings.


         Patel filed claims for disability insurance benefits on June 6, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 10, 2013. Patel is over 50 years old, with a high school education, and last worked as an assistant manager in retail sales. His claim was denied on initial review, so he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, which was held on September 10, 2014.

         The ALJ denied the claim on November 25, 2014. Specifically, the ALJ found at step 2 of the required sequential analysis (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520) that Patel had no severe mental impairments, but did have other medically determinable impairments that were severe --- status post liver transplant, diabetes mellitus with kidney complications and neurological complications, mild lumbar scoliosis and osteophytes and chronic kidney disease. At step 3 the ALJ found that none of these impairments met or medically equaled any of the Agency's listed impairments. Dkt. 7-3.

         The ALJ rated Patel's residual functional capacity (RFC) as “light work”, with the following exertional limitations: cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; cannot work around hazards such as unprotected heights, open waters or fires, dangerous or moving machinery; can occasionally stoop, squat, kneel, crawl, bend, and crouch. Based on this RFC the ALJ concluded that Patel could perform his past relevant work (step 4), and denied disability status on that basis. The ALJ made no alternate step 5 findings nor did the vocational expert testify to other work Patel could perform. Dkt. 7-3, at 24.

         The Appeals Council denied Patel's request for review. Patel then filed this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Standard of Review

         Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act governs the standard of review in disability cases. Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002). The Commissioner's decision to deny social security benefits is reviewed by the federal courts to determine whether (1) the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard, and (2) the Commissioner's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). To be substantial, evidence must be relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion. “Judicial review is to be deferential without being so obsequious as to be meaningless.” Taylor v. Bowen, 782 F.2d 1294, 1298 (5th Cir. 1986).

         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). The commissioner applies a five-step sequential analysis to decide disability status. The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps to establish that a disability exists. If successful, the burden shifts to the Commissioner, in step five, to show that the claimant can perform other work. McQueen v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 152 (5th Cir. 1999). Once the Commissioner shows that other jobs are available, the burden shifts back to the claimant to show he is unable to perform the alternative work. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990).

         The Commissioner's decision must stand or fall with the reasons stated in the ALJ's final decision. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000). Post hoc rationalizations for an agency decision are not to be considered by a reviewing court. SEC v. Chenery, 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947).


         Patel claims that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding that Patel's mental impairments were not severe and resulted in no work-related limitations; (b) failing to assign the appropriate weight to the treating physician's opinions regarding his physical impairment limitations; and (3) improperly evaluating Patel's credibility. As explained below, the Court agrees that remand is necessary based on the first two grounds, and finds it unnecessary to consider the third.

         1. Patel's ...

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