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Spano v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

December 20, 2017




         Before the Court are Plaintiff's Brief (Dkt. No. 11); Defendant's Brief (Dkt. No. 12); and Plaintiff's Reply (Dkt No. 13). Also before the Court is the Social Security record filed in this case (Cited as “Tr.”).

         I. General Background

         Plaintiff Anita Gail Spano brings this appeal challenging the final decision denying her disability benefits. Spano has a high school education and completed secretarial school in 1979. (Tr. 175). Her past work includes work in a pet boarding facility, performing data entry in a warehouse, and working for a home-building company. Id. Spano filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 12, 2013, alleging disability due to depression, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Sjogren's disease, and Raynaud's syndrome. (Tr. 174). This application was denied initially on October 14, 2013, and was denied on reconsideration on January 8, 2014. (Tr. 74, 82). After a hearing, ALJ James Bentley denied the application on September 9, 2015. (Tr. 11-21).

         In his Decision, the ALJ found Spano last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2012. (Tr. 13). He found Spano did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period between her alleged onset date of December 17, 2005, and the date she was last insured, March 31, 2012. (Tr. 13). The ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Spano suffered from severe impairments of depression, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. (Tr. 13). He also found that, through the date last insured, Spano did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr. 14). The ALJ determined that Spano was unable to perform her past relevant work, but that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, and she was therefore not disabled. (Tr. 19-20). The Appeals Council denied review on October 18, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final Agency decision, which Spano now appeals.

         II. Legal Standards

         The Social Security Act defines “disability” as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . 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). To determine if a claimant is disabled the Commissioner uses a five-step analysis:

1. a claimant who is working, engaging in a substantial gainful activity, will not be found to be disabled no matter what the medical findings are;
2. a claimant will not be found to be disabled unless he has a “severe impairment”;
3. a claimant whose impairment meets or is equivalent to an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations will be considered disabled without the need to consider vocational factors;
4. a claimant who is capable of performing work that he has done in the past must be found “not disabled”; and
5. if the claimant is unable to perform his previous work as a result of his impairment, then factors such as his age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine whether he can do other work.

Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. A finding of disability or no disability at any step “is conclusive and terminates the analysis.” Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987). The claimant has the burden of proof for the first four steps; however, at step five, the burden initially shifts to the Commissioner to identify other work the applicant is capable of performing. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990). If the Commissioner “fulfills his burden of pointing out potential alternative employment, the burden then shifts back to the claimant to prove that he is unable to perform the alternate work.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Kinash v. Callahan, 129 F.3d 736, 738 (5th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance-in other words, “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court considers “four elements of proof when determining whether there is substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) [the claimant's] age, education, and work history.” Id. at 174. However, a reviewing court “may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 ...

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