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.
Zina West-Lewis seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained
below, the hearing decision should be reversed and remanded.
West-Lewis alleges that she is disabled due to a variety of
ailments including migraines, blackouts, a stroke, knee and
back pain, schizophrenia, injuries resulting from a car
accident, memory loss, fainting and depression. See
Dkt. No. 10 (Administrative Record [“Tr.”]) at
233, 265-66, 290). After her application for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) benefits was denied
initially and on reconsideration, Ms. West-Lewis requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). That hearing was held on July 8, 2015.
See Id. at 75-102. At the time of the hearing, Ms.
West-Lewis was 52 years old. She is a high school graduate
and has past work experience as a general office clerk, sales
clerk, and teacher's assistant. Ms. West-Lewis has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 12,
found that M. West-Lewis was not disabled and therefore not
entitled to SSI benefits. Although the medical evidence
established that Ms. West-Lewis suffered from affective
disorder, seizure disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and
borderline intellectual functioning, 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. West-Lewis 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. West-Lewis was capable of working as a garment sorter,
marker, and inspector counter - 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. West-Lewis Plaintiff was not disabled
under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.
West-Lewis appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The
West-Lewis then filed this action in federal district court.
Ms. West-Lewis challenges the hearing decision on three
general grounds: (1) the ALJ used the wrong legal standard in
evaluating the severity of her impairments; (2) the ALJ
failed to consider all of her medically determined
impairments; and (3) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate
medical opinion evidence.
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 ...