United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
FRANCES H. STACY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court in this social security appeal is
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 15) and
Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum of Law in Support (Document No. 16). After
considering the cross motions for summary judgment,
Defendant's Response to Plaintiffs Motion for Summary
Judgment (Document No. 17), the administrative record, the
written decision of the Administrative Law Judge dated
November 19, 2015, and the applicable law, the Court ORDERS,
for the reasons set forth below, that Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, Plaintiffs Motion for
Summary Judgment is DENIED, and the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Alexander Raphael Lara ("Lara") 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")
on his claim for disability insurance benefits. In one claim,
Lara argues that "Defendant failed to consider all of
the evidence." The Commissioner, in contrast, argues
that there is substantial evidence in the record to support
the ALJ's decision, that the decision comports with
applicable law, and that the decision should be affirmed.
about December 23, 2013, Lara filed an application for
disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), claiming
that he had been unable to work since July 30, 2013, as a
result of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety,
depression, a back injury, arthritis, and photophobia (Tr.
277-279; 337). The Social Security Administration denied his
application at the initial and reconsideration stages. After
that, Lara requested a hearing before an ALJ. The Social
Security Administration granted his request and the ALJ, Mary
Elizabeth Johnson, held a hearing on January 7, 2015, at
which Lara's claims were considered de novo.
(Tr. 34-69). Thereafter, on January 26, 2015, the ALJ issued
her decision finding Lara not disabled. (Tr. 125-135).
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 May 13, 2015, the Appeals Council granted
Lara's request for review and remanded the case to an
Administrative Law Judge for further evaluation (Tr.
141-142). Upon remand, a psychological evaluation was
conducted of Lara by J.L. Patterson, Ph.D., and a subsequent
hearing was held before ALJ Robert N. Burdette on October 15,
2015. On November 19, 2015, ALJ Burdette issued his decision
finding Lara not disabled (Tr. 12-26). The Appeals Council
subsequently found no further basis for review (Tr. 1-3), and
the ALJ's November 19, 2015, decision thus became final.
filed a timely appeal of the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Both sides have filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment. The appeal is now ripe for ruling.
Standard for 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). Indeed, 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,
Simmonsv. Harris, 602F.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); Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693
(5th Cir. 1999); 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 has defined "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." Spellmanv.
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 i 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 so severe as
to I 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 ...