United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
HANOVICE PALERMO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Maria Galvan (“Galvan”) seeks review of the
denial of her request for supplemental security income
payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
Parties consented to have this Court conduct all proceedings
in this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and filed
cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 10, 12, 16. For
the reasons given below, the Court DENIES
Plaintiff's motion, GRANTS the
Commissioner's motion, and DISMISSES the
action with prejudice.
has a high school education and limited work experience; she
worked as a cashier for three different employers between
1988 and 1994, then briefly worked at a daycare in
2006before quitting to care for her disabled
daughter. R. 53, 186-187, 197, 213. On September 26, 2012,
Galvan filed an application under Title XVI for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) benefits alleging she
became disabled beginning on February 27, 2012 when she was
diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. R. 176, 197. The
Commissioner denied her claim. R. 101. Galvan requested
reconsideration of her claim, alleging her condition had
worsened and she now suffered from cancer, sleep apnea,
fibroids, diabetes, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and
thyroid problems. R. 111. Her claim was again denied. R. 109.
then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge.
R. 137-138. At the time of her hearing before Administrative
Law Judge Paul W. Schwarz (“the ALJ”) on March
11, 2014, Galvan was 46 years old. R. 29, 49-100. Plaintiff
testified at the hearing, as did a medical expert, Woodward
Janese, M.D., and a vocational expert, Karen Nielsen, Ph.D.,
both of whom testified on behalf of the state. R. 49-100. The
ALJ issued a decision on June 18, 2014, denying Galvan's
application for benefits. R. 26-41. On October 20, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied Galvan's request for review after
finding there was no basis for one, rendering the ALJ's
decision final. R. 1-6; see Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S.
103, 106 (2000) (explaining that when the Appeals Council
denies the request for review, the ALJ's opinion becomes
the final decision).
Standard of Review
Social Security Act provides that an individual may seek
judicial review of “any final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which
[s]he was a party.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In
performing that review:
“The court shall have power to enter, upon the
pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner . .
., with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The
findings of the Commission . . . as to any facts, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .
Id. Judicial review of the Commissioner's denial
of disability benefits is limited to two inquiries: first,
whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence;
and second, whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal
standards in evaluating the evidence. See Id.
(“The findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any
facts, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive . . .”); Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence”
means “that quantum of relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 135
(5th Cir. 2000). It is “something more than a scintilla
but less than a preponderance.” Id; Masterson v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002).
reviewing court may not reweigh the evidence in the record,
retry the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner, even if the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.
Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir. 1999).
Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, not the
courts, to resolve. Id. At the same time, however,
judicial review must not be “so obsequious as to be
meaningless.” Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). The “substantial evidence”
standard is not a rubber stamp of the Commissioner's
decision. It involves more than a search for evidence
supporting the Commissioner's findings. Cook v.
Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985);
Singletary v. Brown, 798 F.2d 818, 822-223 (5th Cir.
1986) (“[T]he substantial evidence test does not
involve a simple search of the record for isolated bits of
evidence which support the [Commissioner's]
decision.”). Rather, a reviewing court must scrutinize
the record as a whole, taking into account whatever in the
record fairly detracts from the weight of the evidence
supporting the Commissioner's findings. See
Cook, 750 F.2d at 393. A court “may affirm only on
the grounds that the Commissioner stated for [the]
decision.” Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920,
923 (5th Cir. 2014).
qualify for disability benefits, a plaintiff must prove she
is disabled. A person is disabled if she is “unable 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A);
Masterson, 309 F.3d at 271. The Commissioner must
follow a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is
disabled, asking the following questions in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in “substantial
gainful activity”? (Step One)
(2) Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of
impairments that is “severe”? (Step Two)
(3) Are the claimant's impairments of a severity that
meets or equals the criteria listed in the applicable
regulations? (Step Three)
(4) Considering the claimant's residual functional
capacity, do the impairments prevent the claimant from