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Acevedo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

February 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision. Jurisdiction is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Both parties having consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, the case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules of the Western District of Texas. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED.


         On August 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed his application for DIB. (R.190) He also filed an application for SSI on October 20, 2015. (R:41) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on August 22, 2013. (Id.)[1] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (R:41) Pursuant to Plaintiffs request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing to review Plaintiffs applications de novo on June 9, 2015, at which both Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (R:58-80) The ALJ issued her decision on December 16, 2015, denying benefits. (R:41-53) Plaintiffs request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on June 2, 2017. (R: 1-5)


         Plaintiff presents the following issue for review:

         1. Whether the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the treating physician's opinion. (Doc. 22:2-7)


         A. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1120 (1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but can be less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding of no substantial evidence will be made only where there is a "conspicuous absence of credible choices" or "no contrary medical evidence." Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983). In reviewing the substantiality of the evidence, a court must consider the record as a whole and "must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight." Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 818, 823 (5th Cir. 1986).

         If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173. In applying the substantial evidence standard, a court must carefully examine the entire record, but may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Haywood v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 1463, 1466 (5th Cir. 1989). It may not substitute its own judgment "even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision, " because substantial evidence is less than a preponderance. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, and not the courts, to resolve. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993).

         B. Evaluation Process

         Disability is defined as the "inability to engage in 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). The ALJ evaluates disability claims according to a sequential five-step process: 1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; 2) whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is severe; 3) whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix 1; 4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; and 5) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. A person's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is what he can still do despite his limitations or impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a); SSR96-8p.

         An individual applying for benefits bears the initial burden of proving that he is disabled for purposes of the Act. Selders v. Sullivan,914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990). The claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps, and once met, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there is other substantial gainful employment available that the claimant is capable of ...

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