United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tonya Gilbert seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained
below, the hearing decision should be reversed.
Gilbert alleges that she is disabled due to a variety of
ailments including diabetes, back pain, depression and
anxiety. After her application for disability insurance
benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration, Ms.
Gilbert requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). That hearing was held on January
29, 2015. See Dkt. No. 10 (Administrative Record
(“Tr.”)) at 49-85 (Hearing Transcript). At the
time of the hearing, Ms. Gilbert was 51 years old. She has a
tenth grade education and past work experience as a
cashier-checker. Ms. Gilbert has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 1, 2010.
found that Ms. Gilbert was not disabled and therefore not
entitled to disability benefits. See Tr. at 21-32
(ALJ's Decision). Although the medical evidence
established that Ms. Gilbert suffered from status post left
knee replacement, degenerative disc disease, obesity,
affective disorder, anxiety disorder and diabetes, the ALJ
concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet
or equal any impairment listed in the social security
regulations. The ALJ further determined that Ms. Gilbert had
the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range
of light work but could not return to her past relevant
employment. Relying on a vocational expert's testimony,
the ALJ found that Ms. Gilbert was capable of working as an
assembler, laundry folder and price marker - jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy. Given her
age, education, and exertional capacity for light work, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Gilbert was not disabled under the
Gilbert appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The
Council affirmed. Ms. Gilbert then filed this action in
federal district court. Ms. Gilbert contends that the hearing
decision is not supported by substantial evidence and results
from reversible legal error. More particularly, Ms. Gilbert
argues that (1) the ALJ erred by assigning significant weight
to the opinion of the examining psychologist but failing to
include all of the limitations that the examining
psychologist found or explaining why he did not include them
and (2) the ALJ failed to provide good, specific, and
supported reasons for giving “less weight” to the
opinion of the consultive examiner, who found extreme
undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be
reversed and this case remanded to the Commissioner of Social
Security for further proceedings consistent with these
findings and conclusions.
review in social security cases is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards to evaluate
the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir.
2014); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir.
1995). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923. The Commissioner,
rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the
evidence, including weighing conflicting testimony and
determining witnesses' credibility, and the Court does
not try the issues de novo. See Martinez v.
Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan
v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994). This Court
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for
the Commissioner's but must scrutinize the entire record
to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports the
hearing decision. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923;
Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir.
1988). The Court “may affirm only on the grounds that
the Commissioner stated for [the] decision.”
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.
order to qualify for disability insurance benefits or
[supplemental security income], a claimant must suffer from a
disability.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)). A disabled worker is entitled to monthly
social security benefits if certain conditions are met.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines
“disability” as the inability to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or last for a continued period of
12 months. See Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Cook v. Heckler, 750
F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).
evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner conducts a
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).
claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a
disability through the first four steps of the analysis; on
the fifth, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that
there is other substantial work in the national economy that
the claimant can perform. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at
923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. A finding that the
claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the
five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis.
See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Lovelace v.
Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987).
reviewing the propriety of a decision that a claimant is not
disabled, the Court's function is to ascertain whether
the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's final decision. The Court
weighs four elements to determine whether there is
substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical
facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining
physicians; (3) subjective evidence of pain and disability;
and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
See Martinez, 64 F.3d at 174.
has a duty to fully and fairly develop the facts relating to
a claim for disability benefits. See Ripley, 67 F.3d
at 557. If the ALJ does not satisfy this duty, the resulting
decision is not substantially justified. See Id.
However, the Court does not hold the ALJ to procedural
perfection and will reverse the ALJ's decision as not
supported by substantial evidence where the claimant shows
that the ALJ failed to fulfill the duty to adequately develop
the record only if that failure prejudiced Ms. Gilbert,
see Jones v. Astrue, 691 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir.
2012) - that is, only if Ms. Gilbert's substantial rights
have been affected, see Audler, 501 F.3d at 448.
“Prejudice can be established by showing that
additional evidence would have been produced if the ALJ had
fully developed the record, and that the additional evidence
might have led to a different ...